Spotlight on food security

The European Commission, backed by the European Parliament and the majority of Member States, has proposed food security as a key policy issue for the post-2013 CAP.

In its paper ‘The CAP towards 2020’ DG Agri highlighted the need to preserve the EU’s food production potential “so as to guarantee the long term food security for European Citizens”.  Critics say that scenario is more to do with a defence of a CAP that absorbs more than 40% of the EU budget than real concern for food security because they argue for more than 50 years the EU has produced more than sufficient food for its citizens in each year and now the benefit of technological progress and improved farming methods means that even an ever larger EU population should not go hungry and this is so, even if there was a catastrophic event.  The European production potential can easily be unlocked and it follows, the critics say, that a probability of food shortages in the EU is minimal.

So does the EU have a genuine concern for food security? – yes says the Commissioner for Development who, last month when addressing the European Parliament, reiterated that agriculture and food security are top priority areas of a reformed CAP.  The United National Millennium Goals Initiative 2009 and a renewed EU food security policy adopted last year
are signs of this commitment which in EU terms now totals about 800million Euro per annum expended in more than 40 countries.

The Commissions communication to the Council and the European Parliament of March 2010 provided a common policy framework for the EU and its Member States to fight world hunger and malnutrition, identified that future food security challenges include population growth, pressures on natural resources, eco services and adverse impacts on climate change in agriculture affecting growing conditions and making adaption measures necessary.  The EU policy seeks to address the issues of food security in practice by embracing policies and programmes which increase the availability of and access to food, improved nutritional quality of food and further develop crisis prevention schemes including the management of risk, whilst recognising that food security strategies need to be country owned and country specific.

The UN Millennium Development Goals report of 2009 acknowledged that food security policies have been uneven both geographically and between population groups which has reduced this effectiveness. For example the proportion of undernourished people in sub-Saharan Africa only decreased from 32% in 1990/92 to 29% in 2008.

The EU framework estimates that world population is likely to reach 9 billion by 2050 and diet changes and increased incomes over that period means the demand for food is likely to grow by 70%  It also recognises that most of the poor and hungry of the world live in rural areas where agriculture forms the main economic activity and where small-scale farming is prominent.  About 85% of farmers in developing countries produce on less than 2 hectares of land according to an article in ‘Science’ February 2010 with mixed crop/livestock/small holding systems producing about half of the world’s food.  Accordingly the EU has identified the need to focus assistance on sustainable small-scale food production, arguing that this has marginal effects of enhancing incomes and resilience for rural producers, making food available for consumers and maintaining or enhancing environmental quality.  This involves harmonising EU interventions in developing countries and that this should be an increasingly important aspect of a reformed CAP.

Only recently the Commission begun work on a first draft of its initiative “EU Agricultural Policy in the world”.  This draft seeks to ensure that EU agriculture plays its part in first assuring food availability and productive capacity, secondly to meet the increasing demand and thirdly seeking to prevent a repetition of the crisis of 2007/08 when skyrocketing food prices led to riots and political discontent in many parts of the world.

The EU was a prime mover behind the G20 initiative to take global action to tackle price volatility which was endorsed by the G20 summit in November.

Critics remain unconvinced that EU’s policies and initiatives since 2009 means food security remains at the forefront of the CAP. The UK’s position is that the reform proposals are backward looking and an opportunity to further help the world’s hungry will be lost.  It is essential that all Member States treat this problem with the deep concern and urgency that it demands and harmonising the efforts in each member of the world’s largest trading block should be a positive first step.

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