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The governing body of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) met in Rome on April 8, 2022 in an Extraordinary Session to examine the “impact of the Ukraine-Russia conflict on global food security and related matters under its mandate” and advise on how it should proceed. Meanwhile, just two days earlier, the Civil Society and Indigenous People Mechanism (CSIPM) at U.N. Committee on World Food Security (CFS) called for an Extraordinary Plenary Session of the CFS.

We must consider these developments along with a new initiative from the U.N. and against the background of the FAO's global food prices index reaching its highest level ever.

In response to the immediate crises provoked by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, on March 14 the U.N. Secretary General (SG) António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres announced the establishment of the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance (GCRG). On April 5, he released the GCRG’s initial recommendations. According to remarks made by the U.N. SG at the U.N. Security Council Meeting, these initial recommendations are for the consideration of the member states, international financial institutions and others. In brief, they are:

  • On food: To avoid the risk of hunger and famine spreading further, the GRCG urges all countries to keep markets open, resist unjustified and unnecessary export restrictions, and make reserves available to countries at risk of hunger and famine.
  • On energy: While some countries’ plans to release strategic reserves of fossil fuels in an attempt to reduce their dependence on Russian stocks could help ease the current crisis in the short term, the only medium and long-term solution is accelerated deployment of renewable energy, which is not impacted by market fluctuations. Renewable energy deployment is the best option in most cases and will allow the progressive phaseout of coal and all other fossil fuels.
  • On finance: The G20 group of most-developed nations, along with international financial institutions, must urgently take measures to “provide safety nets for the poorest and most vulnerable.” Reform of the global financial system is long overdue.

Led by the U.N. Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed, the GCRG appears to be primarily an interagency mechanism of the U.N., comprised of the heads of relevant U.N. agencies (such as the UNCTAD Secretary General Rebeca Grynspan and the FAO Director General QU Dongy), with additional members including the Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce John W.H. Denton, as well as the IMF, the World Bank Group and WTO.

In announcing the GCRG, the U.N. SG also pointed to the multiple crises — hunger, climate and political instabilities — occurring in communities across the world. Noting how the pandemic exacerbated these crises, he observed that the war in Ukraine is worsening the crises not only in Ukraine, but also in least-developed and net food-importing developing countries. He noted that its ramifications will be experienced by “everyday people, especially women and children,” who will bear the brunt of this unfolding tragedy. He was spot on in saying how the “war also shows how the global addiction to fossil fuels is placing energy security, climate action and the entire global economy at the mercy of geopolitics.”

The attempt of the GCRG to look at the interconnected crises in the three areas of food, energy/climate and finance is extremely important, and each specific recommendation seem to be well thought out. At IATP, we advocate for long-term solutions in community food systems, climate change, and trade and finance. We use a systems approach in our analyses to ensure that short-term solutions to addressing the crises become building blocks for long-term solutions. GCRG would be well served to consider the intersections of these three work areas. These intersections need as much attention as the specific work areas, since actions in each of these areas can impact another, just as short-term strategies within a sector at times can negatively impact long-term goals, as was pointed out in the CSIPM call to the CFS chair.

Immediate efforts towards responding to the feed crisis, such as allocating further land to increase the feed production, without questioning the deeply rooted and multiple problematics of the intensive livestock sector, will put even more pressure on the diversity of agricultural and food production and consumption that is most relevant to societies in different regions of the world.

In some ways, the GCRG initiative is reminiscent of the controversial U.N. Food System Summit (FSS) in 2021, which identified the need to transform the food systems as paramount. It aimed to offer sustainable solutions to multiple problems in the food systems and was presented as a new deal for people planet and prosperity. Instead, as has been pointed out, the FSS failed to take account of the food crisis that the pandemic made worse. As the GCRG initiative unfolds, it is crucial that such missteps be avoided at all costs, that that all affected parties and actors be part of the conversations, and that we keep justice as an essential part of actions across countries and communities, as well as between generations.

Thirteen years ago, a similar global crisis — the food and finance crisis of 2007-2008 — sparked a similar initiative from the then-U.N. SG and led to major reforms to the CFS, making it the foremost inclusive multilateral space on food and agriculture issues. In the face of the current crisis, the CFS should convene a special session among its broad range of participants to find long-term solutions to crises that have been plaguing the food governance community for over a decade. This echoes the CSIPM’s call in an Open Letter to the CFS Chairperson Gabriel Ferrero, ambassador at large for global food security of Spain, asking for a special plenary session of the CFS. This special plenary could also urgently consider the GCRG recommendations, ensuring that the recommendations feed into long-term policy solutions.

CSIPM’s Open Letter emphasizes that the war in Ukraine is creating a new layer of the global food crisis on top of existing crises stemming from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, protracted crises, deep inequalities and climate change. The CSIPM call to the CFS chair identifies many ingredients of the growing global food price crisis (the energy crisis, international and domestic speculation, rising production costs and the concentration of power by only a handful of actors in cereal trade, fertilizer production and shipping transport that control international trade) and asks for a coordinated policy response. It suggests that many countries need to reorient their economic strategies away from dependency of global value chains to pursue real economic diversification strategies, with local food systems at the center, and that strong and inclusive global food governance, with the CFS at the center, is required for this reorientation.

Why CFS? First, it is the most inclusive multilateral food governance space where the most vulnerable communities — be they smallholder producers dealing with climate crisis or those impacted by protracted crises, poverty, deep inequalities and related food insecurities — have a seat at the table. As the highest multilateral institution responsible for global food governance, the CFS is the best space to advance the food and agriculture-related work of the GCRG to member countries, while incorporating the responses of the impacted communities. Second, through the work of its advisory group, the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE), the CFS has developed an extensive body of evidence-based knowledge on the food crisis and related issues. Over the last decade, it has developed several inter-governmentally negotiated voluntary policy agreements that are relevant to this context and available for public use. Third, the CFS-HLPE can weigh in on how to minimize the tradeoffs between GCRG recommendations that are relevant for food security, enabling the plenary to arrive at well-informed policy consensus. As the Ukraine-Russia war continues, a special plenary session would bring together a broad range of critical actors in the global food system to advance integrated solutions to protect the food security of the most vulnerable. 

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