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A Plan for a New Food and Agriculture Agenda in 2008

April 2008

ETC Group, a Grassroots International ally based in Canada, has released a report highlighting the failure of governments to manage their multilateral food and agriculture agencies.

ETC is calling on the United Nations to gather the leaders of such agencies to hammer out a plan for the future. It says the meeting is necessary because of numerous threats facing the world’s agricultural systems:

  • Corporate agribusinesses have grown more economically concentrated and politically cohesive in recent years. As a result, their influence over governments has grown, and will no doubt grow further as consolidation continues.
  • Demand for biofuels is increasing, and the world could reach a point of “peak soil” in the near future.
  • Global warming could threaten existing farming patterns but also sway the public into believing that genetically-modified food is the solution when, in reality, small-scale farmers are well-equipped to adapt using sustainable agriculture and are actually in a good position to slow global warming.

In addition, ETC notes that numerous key meetings around agriculture are scheduled for 2008. They write that “almost everything that could happen internationally to food and agriculture will either take place this year — or will play out this year as a consequence of recent events.” In its report, the ETC has compared the events to a meal, with one event being the appetizer, another the salad, and another the dessert.

Yet despite the threats to the world’s food supply and the important upcoming agricultural meetings, the ETC finds that international institutions seeking to address food and agriculture issues are failing, and that multinational agribusinesses and philanthropic capitalists could fill the power vacuum. “All the reviews point to major governance problems or full-blown institutional crises,” the ETC reports, citing a few examples: the World Bank’s 2007 World Development Report, which addressed agricultural issues, criticized the Bank for not addressing agricultural issues since the 1980s; an external evaluation of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) concluded that a third of IFAD’s projects missed their target; the World Food Programme (WFP) is cutting staff members and struggling to find a new strategy; and the Gates/Rockefeller AGRA initiative in Africa has received stinging criticism from farmers’ organizations and other foundations.

ETC finds governments to blame for these fissures and offers a brief history of governmental intervention in world agriculture before offering a bleak prediction: that governments will admit their failures and “turn the job over to others” — meaning private corporations and philanthro-capitalists — unless other agricultural stakeholders become more involved. “Left to their own devices, OECD states, Gates, Monsanto and Wal-Mart could become food’s new sovereigns — à la cartel — turning food shortages, climate chaos, and food’s failed estates into a new food chain.”

Before the 1996 World Food Summit, a proposal was floated to create a “New Roman Forum” that would offer a biennial policy gathering at which major agricultural actors from around the world would be held accountable. ETC believes the forum would have potential now, although it offers suggestions for a re-thinking of the event and a build-up to it through the following actions:

  • A presentation at the OED Aid Effectiveness Conference in September of case studies on the failure of governmental food and agricultural institutions and the rise of philanthro-capitalism.
  • A call by the UN Secretary-General for a meeting of the heads of all governmental food and agriculture institutions to establish a “process for renewal,” followed by the release of a report on the meeting.
  • A convening of all interested parties in certain regions of the world to discuss the findings of the report.
  • A November 2009 meeting of all stakeholders in Rome, and rapid implementation of the meeting’s decisions by certain institutions.

To access the detailed report, go here.

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