Q&A: a fresh look at food security and ag development
The United Nations' Kostas Stamoulis sat down with www.freshfruitportal.com during a visit to Santiago, Chile to discuss plans for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The director for the Agriculture Development Economics Division highlighted the organization's new framework, food security and lessons learned from Latin America.
What motivated the trip to Chile?
FAO is promoting a new way of doing business based on five strategic objectives and based on results achieved at the country level. The new strategic framework, as we call it, and the way it operates is better addressing the priorities and the needs of countries. It mobilizes the capacities of FAO and its partners to address needs and priorities. We believe that this is a more effective and efficient way of doing business.
What might the new framework look like in Latin America?
There are five strategic objectives. They have to do with food security, with sustainable development, with a more inclusive structure of agriculture and the food system, with emergencies and resilience, and poverty reduction. So, all those things are relevant for Latin America. For every country, there will be a balance of needs. Each of those strategic objects will be different.
What can we expect in 2013 in terms of food prices?
In the context of prices that are so volatile – as we have experienced over the last few years – it’s very difficult to make precise projections for the full year. However, we feel in general prices will be softer than they were last year. I think our assessment is that production will probably be higher than we expected some time ago and that will ease the pressure of prices. We’re already looking at the first months of 2013 and prices are lower than they were at the same time period last year. It will probably, overall, stay the same at a global level. The situation may vary in sub-regions based on the degree of price transmission from global to local prices.
How will lower prices impact food security?
If prices are stable, it has a very positive food security impact. Price volatility does not benefit everybody, unless you’re a speculator and have good guesses. Sharp rises in food prices is very negative for the poor households that consume more food than they produce. The reason for this is that households that spend a huge portion of their budget on food, if food prices go up, they experience a sharp decrease in their real income. So what do they do? They cut meals or they cut nutritious food in favor or more caloric and lower nutritional value food.
What can be done to better stabilize prices?
A lot of price instability is caused by unilateral policies of countries which enter the international market with panic buying or they restrict exports. A more coherent and coordinated approach to market interventions would go a long way into bringing some stability to prices.
If we want to talk about food security issues, then emergency type reserves that are more geared toward resolving local crisis could give us the opportunity to not necessarily stabilize prices but to have the types of stocks necessary to promote safety nets.
To the extent that the price stability is linked to weather related shocks, we know that some of those weather related shocks are the outcome of climate change. So the solution to this would be two things: agriculture better adapted to climate change and more productive agriculture, especially for small holders and family farms.
How can agriculture adapt to climate change?
There are existing technologies but there is also a lot of potential for technologies in agricultural practices that are making agriculture more resilient to climate change. There’s not one technology. It varies by crop and region and type of environment.
How prepared is Latin American agriculture to face climate change?
There’s quite a bit of activity going on. It’s very difficult to summarize because Latin America is not one country and not all countries in Latin America are susceptible to climate shocks. The small islands, for instance, are much more vulnerable. As the sea level rises, you need to take adaptive measures.
However, Latin America is one of the best, in general, prepared regions in terms of agriculture. There has been quite a bit of attention by governments and others in agriculture.
Also, Latin America is the fasted transforming region. In a way, agriculture is the principle source of livelihood into other activities. That doesn’t take away from the fact that in some poorer countries, agriculture is the backbone of the economy.
There has been a real revolution in this region that has moved agriculture quite substantially forward.
Tell us about the Voices of the Hungry project.
The project is a way of assessing the food security situation in a country by asking people how they feel about their food security. So it’s an objective assessment of people’s perception and their food security status. FAO is working together with Gallup and asks questions that make people reveal their own perception of food security.
It’s possible that it will be piloted in Africa.
What other projects can we expect from the organization?
There is quite a bit of activity. There is the Hunger Free Latin America and the Caribbean Initiative.
One of the fundamental factors that makes a difference in Latin America in making enormous progress toward hunger reduction is the political will of the development agenda. The commitment of governments and stakeholder to eliminate hunger is something that has made a fundamental difference in Latin America for hunger reduction. This program is capitalizing on that.
Is hunger reduction just Latin American priority for the FAO or is it global?
We try to use it as a big lesson learned from Latin America for other countries to follow, to build strength and political commitment for hunger reduction. We are not here to impose anything on any country or region. They have to look at it as an example and, of course, the situation varies country by country.
Social protection is big in a lot of countries in Latin America. It’s a key instrument governments use to help people. By keeping people not hungry, you help them get out of this vicious circle. Hunger is an impediment to taking advantage of development opportunities.