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Food security

Coalition of the caring

by Sarah Schmitz
Because of rapid global price inflation, IFPRI experts are proposing the establishment of worldwide grain reserves and an IMF “food bank”, which would finance food imports for poor countries in need.

According to Joachim von Braun, the director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, the latest crisis reveals a weak point in the architecture of global governance. In a recent article, the Financial Times quoted his demand to form a “coalition of the caring”, which would be made up of G8 countries and major agricultural exporters such as Brazil.

In a current IFPRI report, von Braun and his colleagues make more elaborate proposals for improving the architecture of governance in the fields of agriculture, food and nutrition. They suggest that the main grain producers establish minimum grain reserves, which countries dependent on imports could fall back on in emergencies, while also relying on stable prices. Furthermore, the IFPRI scholars are in favour of setting up a “food bank” under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This financing facility would ensure that funds are available for such imports. They also call for reforms of the Food Aid Convention, which has repeatedly been criticised for being toothless (please note essay by Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul on page 250). At the moment, more money and more food are required for emergency assistance, according to the report. Microfinance schemes are said to be of particular relevance, given that loan sharks frequently exploit the poor and hungry. A further recommendation concerns Africa, which should bank on the conventional Green Revolution policies such as the use of improved seeds, fertiliser and rural credit. Moreover, the IFPRI scholars state that more investments are needed in rural infrastructure, agricultural research and farm-related insurances (to protect peasants from crop failure, for instance).

The IFPRI team opposes export bans, such as the one China recently imposed on exporting rice and maize for reasons of self-protection. That approach, the scholars argue, harms import-dependent countries, inhibits investments and stimulates the formation of cartels. They estimate that eliminating existing export bans would reduce current price levels by 30 %.

A further IFPRI demand is to freeze the development of biofuels at current levels, or to even reduce their production. They also call for a moratorium on developing fuels from grain and oil seeds. At the time, they want more money to be spent on the development of agro-energy technology, so that it would no longer compete with food production.

Sarah Schmitz