Madrid High Level Meeting on Food Security for all: a big show with little results

Marek Poznanski, 19 February 2009

Several members of the European Food Security Group, including myself, attended the High level meeting on "food security for all" in Madrid on the 26th and 27th of January 2009. This meeting was organized by the by Zapatero, the President of the Spanish Government, to comply with his commitment made during the last Rome Summit on the food crisis (3 - 5 June 2008) to host a High Level Meeting in Spain.

The main objectives announced for this Meeting were:

  1. to analyze the progress made since the last Rome Summit,
  2. to agree on the next priorities for immediate action, as well as for establishing medium and long term measures and results,
  3. to get a commitment to achieve these objectives in order to accomplish the Millennium Development Goals aimed at reducing hunger and poverty.

Even if those objectives looks very serious, the way the meeting was prepared (without much consultation and within a few weeks), his format (very few debates, if we except some round-tables, but without connection to any results) and the inexistence of any official declaration or document to agree on before the conference made very difficult for us from the Civil society/NGO side, but also for a lot of governmental delegates, to really understand the process and the issues at stake, from the beginning of the Conference. The result was that the Conference looked more as a show than as a meaningful process, leading the delegates of Concord and other CSOs/NGOs to question, from the beginning, about the opportunity of our participation, even if this impression changed later.

Gradually, tree majors’ issues appear to be directly or indirectly at stake:

1) The first one was the Zapatero’s willingness to make of the Madrid meeting a pledging conference. In his capacity as Chairman of the IDEAS Foundation (but not as Spanish President of Government), Zapatero invited Jeffrey Sachs to lead an Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Food Security to develop recommendations for improving smallholder food production.
This report advocates the establishment of a Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF) for the Global Food Crisis based in the World Bank, with a Financial Coordination Mechanism (FCM). _ The Spanish Government pledged, during the Conference, to commit a billion Euros (number to be checked) on the next few years for the agricultural cooperation. To my understanding, this attempt to use the Conference for the promotion of the MDTF and the FCM was strongly rejected, between closed doors, by almost all EU Member’s States and was not officially proposed by the Spanish Government.

The speech presenting the report (I didn’t read the report itself yet) by Jeffrey Sachs was, for me and a lot of people, very simplistic and demagogical.
He said that there were just two things to do to cope with the food crisis:

  • one was to distribute food to the hungry, something that WFP was doing very well (this was not developed in his speech);
  • the second thing on which the report focused was to boost the productivity of smallholders, by giving the needed funds to the Southern Governments in order to make them able to provide input (seed and fertilizer) to the small farmers. But nothing was said about the empowerment of farmers, about rights or unfair policies; we had just a 30 minutes long speech repeating the same motto: you have just to give funds to the Southern Governments, and they know how to use it for providing inputs in order to boost the productivity of smallholders; and by this way save millions of lives.

2) The second is the inclusion of the right to food as the third pillar besides the already existing twin-track approach taken by the Comprehensive framework for action, with the food assistance and safety nets from one side and the improvement of small holder agriculture on the other side.

In the closing remarks of UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, the Right to Food was emphasized as the basis for analysis, action and accountability of all activities to improve food security. This inclusion shows certainly the excellent work that is doing the new UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, even if it is not really clear if Ban Ki Moon sees really all the implications of the dimensions given by Olivier to the right to food.

3) Finally, the most important issue discussed during the Madrid Conference, and the only really negotiated in the final declaration, was the Global Alliance for Agriculture and Food Security. This initiative comes from the last Rome Summit, where Nicolas Sarkozy proposed the establishment of this global alliance for agriculture and Food Security that must enlarge the existing UN High Level Task Force (HLTF) on the Global Food Security Crisis to government, civil society and private sector. This initiative draw up, before and during the Conference, a lot of questions and even suspicion from some civil society representatives or institutions. The main criticism by a lot of civil society representatives is that the "Global Partnership" is mainly pushed by the G8 countries and will give too much influence to Multilateral Institutions like the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO. The fear is that this would give to the Transnational Companies (TNCs) and the big Foundations (such as the Bill Gates Foundation) an official seat at the discussion table. The fear was also that the FAO and other UN agencies based in Rome, despite their mandate and expertise to implement effective programs, are isolated and marginalized.

The way that the Conference was prepared and the lack of real consistent efforts to bring representatives of farmer’s organizations and other representatives of the civil society in the debate in Madrid only increase this fear for the process of the Global Alliance.
It is in those circumstances that the representatives of the European Food Security Group (EFSG) of CONCORD were invited, a little bit by chance, the evening of the 26th, to a "close doors" meeting on the Global Partnership on Agriculture and Food Security between the civil society, David Nabarro (the coordinator of the High Level Task Force on Global Food Security) and his team and two Spanish Government delegates.

To our view, it was an excellent meeting that certainly changes our perspective on the utility to be present in Madrid. Facing the very arch criticism of the civil society, Nabarro tried in a sincere manner to explain his vision and the difficulty related to the global partnership and the relation with the FAO. He and the Spanish Government delegates recognize and regret the limited dialogue with the civil society prior to the Conference. They particularly listen with openness to the views expressed the EFSG representatives and carefully tooks note of them. The second day of the Conference, we were very surprised that most of our concern on the Global Partnership expressed during our meeting were literally endorsed in the Spanish Minister speech and, later, in the final declaration of the Conference in the paragraph 11, written as follow:

11) They agreed on the importance of an inclusive and broad process of consultation on options leading to the establishment of a Global Partnership for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, which starts at the Madrid High Level Meeting. They emphasized the importance of the following elements of a consultation process, which should be convened and facilitated by the members of the UN HLTF:

a. The consultations should be open to the full range of stakeholders involved in agriculture, food security and nutrition (including farmers’ organizations, civil society organizations, women’s organizations, private sector, developing country governments, and both regional and international organizations).

b. A representative contact group, accountable to all interested partners, should be established to guide and oversee the consultation process.

c. The process of consultation should have a sound methodology that is based on best practice, involves participation at multiple levels and includes regular feedback to all stakeholders.

d. The contact group should identify and highlight positive examples of ongoing partnerships.

This constructive move didn’t avoid a strong rejection of the results of the Conference and especially the Global partnership by an important number of CSOs/NGOs present in Madrid, in a declaration "Accelerating into disaster – when banks manage the food crisis"
prepared in advance and released at the end of the Conference.

But this declaration was done without any consultation with the EFSG representatives in Madrid and is not taking into account some of the new elements on the way to organize the Global Partnership endorsed in the Madrid declaration.

Contrarily to the skepticism of the civil society on the Global Partnership, there was a very strong endorsement of this Global Partnership by some UN Member States, especially the European countries.

Remarks: After the Conference we were informally inform that the initial process for establishing consultations around the Global Partnership on Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition (GPAFSN) is being taken forward through an intergovernmental mechanism. At the same time, member organizations in the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Task Force on Global Food Security have agreed to establish a network of potential partners who will support the development of functioning partnerships within countries and at regional level. David Nabarro will ensure that the full capacities of this network - and the small Secretariat that works with him - are at all times contributing to the consultations on the Global Partnership.

Marek Poznanski

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