Agribusiness vs. food security

… The food crisis and the IFIs (international financial institutions)

Published on STWR, (original source, 17 June 2008).

The food crisis has decisive implications for the future role of international financial institutions – and is calling into question the basis of their approach to development, argues the Bretton Woods Project.

The causes of and remedies for the food crisis are hotly contested; how this rupture in the status quo is resolved will have decisive implications for the roles of the IFIs as well as more broadly for global food security and ecological sustainability.

The UN estimates that the recent food price increase will add 100 million to the over 850 million people who were already short of food. The IFIs trace 15 per cent of the increase to higher energy and fertilizer costs linked to skyrocketing oil prices, and another 15 – 30 per cent to the impact of biofuels. They have been silent on the role of speculative financial capital, which Peter Rosset, researcher at the Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano, calls “one of the most important” short-term causes. Other short-term factors include record-low food stocks and severe weather events such as last year’s Australian drought …

… While most civil society organisations would agree both on the need for increased investment in research and the need to end bio-fuel subsidies, that is where the similarities end. NGO Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy insists that the Doha round would lead both to increased dependency of poor countries on food imports, and increased volatility in food prices.


There is also enormous skepticism about the benefits of the current agribusiness model. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), a three-year high-level exercise, came under “enormous pressure” according to one high-level insider to conform with the findings of the Bank’s World Development Report on agriculture (see Update 58). In contrast to the WDR, the IAASTD emphasises food security, environmental sustainability, and traditional knowledge. It criticises trade liberalisation for undermining the agricultural sector and stresses the need to “preserve national policy flexibility”.

La Via Campesina, an international peasant movement, proposes replacing the current model with one based on the notion of food sovereignty – the right of a country to determine its production and consumption of food and the exemption of agriculture from global trade regimes. They are one of the signatories to a global civil society statement on the world food emergency. It calls for: the UN Human Rights Council and the International Court of Justice to investigate the contribution of agribusiness to violations of the right to food; the establishment of a UN Commission on food production, consumption and trade; and the restructuring of multilateral organisations involved in food aid and agriculture, including the World Bank. (full text).

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