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Jul 8th 2011

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G20 debrief: Let them eat cake

Guest blogger Oday Kamal discusses food security, calling for civil society to be more involved with the debate on global food price volatility.

Last month, agricultural ministers from the top twenty economies convened for the first time in Paris to tame food price volatility.

A pessimist may heal the meeting as a great accomplishment – the ministers from all participating nations agreed on an action plan to curb rising food prices – but any high praises are quickly dimmed after a more realistic picture is drawn.

In the weeks preceding the conference, UN bodies and NGOs alike published a wide range of alternative solutions which, unfortunately, fell on deaf ears.

Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food recently issued a statement outlining five priorities for the G20 to consider and in May, OXFAM international overhauled their whole approach to campaigning for Food Security using a more constructive name, GROW – Food, Life, Planet – a four-year plan to curb world hunger.

Frequent natural disasters, the dynamics of globalization and the treatment of food as a ‘commodity’ contribute to the inherent problems pertaining to our global food system. These problems are far from being solved and to blame factors like speculation and food volatility does not result in an answer.

In fact, treating food as a tradable good subject to competitive market powers draws on deep historical roots. Today,  however,  we are faced with an ‘anti-market’ with the consolidation of global food production across different stages of the value chain being held by a handful of corporations:

  • One corporation (Unilever) controls around 90 per cent of the world’s tea production.
  • The global grain market is within the hands of only four large corporations: ADM, Cargill, ConAgra and Monsanto.
  • In Australia, Wesfarmers and Woolworths, our two friendly giants, comfortably reap an 80 per cent market share of the Australian food supply chain.

Last year the Committee on Food Security at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation overhauled its organisational structure to incorporate members of civil society. A similar move by agricultural ministers at national and global gatherings would no doubt shake the political ivory tower to its foundations. A call to action, after all, is better than no action at all.

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