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Why No Thought for Food?
January 2010

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges APPG on Agriculture and Food for Development as the source of this document


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Foreword: An Appetite for Change

In October 2008 the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Agriculture and Food for Development came into being with the aim of bringing together, in one place, Parliamentarians concerned with both the scientific and developmental aspects of agriculture. It was hoped that the APPG would develop into a forum for discussions around food security, growth and livelihoods in the developing world, bringing these crucial issues, as one, to a Parliamentary audience for the first time. From the start, the Group’s undertakings have been sustained by an extensive supporters’ network of experts drawn from a variety of different disciplines and sectors.

Two months after the Group’s formation in December 2008, Secretary of State for the Environment Hilary Benn declared “British agriculture has led the world on many occasions and we need it to do so again on sustainable agriculture”. As a former DFID Minister his observation was very welcome, although it raised serious questions around his old department’s continued neglect of agriculture – both at home and overseas.

It is difficult to believe that having pledged to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015 as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), DFID did not see the potential ‘value added’ by the British agricultural expertise and had not seized upon this opportunity to take the lead on the global stage in such a vital sector for rural development. The World Bank has worked out that economic growth from agriculture generates at least twice as much poverty reduction as growth from any other sector, and yet with so many successes under its belt, DFID has continued to oversee the dramatic decline in global Official Development Assistance (ODA) spent on agriculture - falling from $6.2 billion in 1980 to $2.3 billion in 2002. Yet at the very same time, global ODA levels have increased massively by 65% meaning that not only is international assistance for agriculture lower now than it was in 1980 in real terms, but that as a share of total ODA it has fallen even more devastatingly from 17% in 1982 to just 3.7% in 2002.

Simultaneously public funds available for agricultural research have declined in recent years with what remains being largely channelled through multilateral institutions which DFID has simultaneously sought to reform. The question, then, is why has the Government consciously and deliberately run down its support for agriculture in international development when it once led the world – why no thought for food? After this abandonment of agriculture nearly 30 years ago, many NGOs who worked in this sector were left to deal with the growing problem as ‘firefighters’, while food insecurity escalated and the money available to support their vital work fell away. Their leadership role over the past three decades in community-led agricultural development cannot be underestimated and has ensured that many people have been saved from the indignity of chronic hunger and ultimately starvation.

Currently the world is letting MDG 1, and the halving of the number of people who suffer from hunger globally, slip through its fingers and further out of reach. Even if we can reverse this trend of increasing hunger and somehow manage to meet this target in the remaining five years of the MDGs, which seems highly unlikely, what next? Little attention is being given to the global needs beyond 2015 – such as the need to double agricultural production by 2050 if the most basic requirements of an expected global population of 9 billion people are to be met. The continued neglect of agriculture and food security – and the reluctance to significantly reinvest in UK expertise in these areas – continues to fly in the face of all the evidence we have received during the nine-months of this inquiry. It therefore can only be seen as a missed opportunity – both for the UK and, more importantly, the wider development effort.

Despite 30 years of neglect, the UK still has an unrivalled bank of cross-sector expertise and experience which can help halt, and ultimately reverse, our current global slide towards hunger, although this expertise will not be around forever. Gareth Thomas, DFID Minister of State, has recently stated that, in the past, DFID seems to “have lost the plot a little” with respect to agriculture. Similarly, Andrew Steer, DFID’s Director General of Policy and Research, told the International Development Committee in November 2009, “We have to be very careful not to pull out of a sector. That is exactly what the development community did when it became too difficult in agriculture about 15 years ago...and we now have a big problem because of that. Much smarter would have been to say the problem is just as important as ever it was but we had better learn what we did wrong...[and] not [that] ‘This is too difficult; we are failing, therefore we are going to pull out of this sector’.” Although DFID is now beginning to recognise the errors it has made in this regard, it now urgently needs to begin putting policies in place to begin rectifying the situation.

As the then DFID Minister Ivan Lewis told our inquiry, “DFID cannot do everything: it has to pick and choose where it will take a lead”, although it remains unclear who decided that agriculture was an area which DFID should savagely withdraw from despite its expertise being well respected and still in high demand. At the same time, African countries are stuttering towards committing 10% of their national budget on agriculture – for them it is all about new, sustainable investment in food security and agricultural productivity. It is vital that DFID’s country programmes fully support this agricultural agenda. At the very least we should be putting 10% of our ODA into agriculture in those countries that are upholding their Maputo commitment – that is, we should be helping those that help themselves. For Africa, agriculture is the key and DFID must be there to help unlock that potential.

A large body of well respected work is now accruing on the subjects of food security and agriculture; indeed it has become evident that DFID must now build on the findings of influential works such as that of the International Assessment of Agriculture, Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) and begin to implement fundamental changes to the way in which agriculture is practiced if hunger is to be averted in ways that will ensure equity and restore the environment – recommendations which DFID Ministers approved back in June 2008.

This report is the culmination of a nine-month inquiry by the APPG. During this time we have gathered information including some 130 written submissions and heard evidence from 29 sources in the UK, the developing world, and beyond; indeed we have been fortunate enough to hear from an exceptional calibre of witnesses who make up some of the world’s foremost experts and eminent authorities on food security issues whilst also taking in the views of key stakeholders on the ground. While is has not been possible to pick up on all of the important issues raised during the inquiry, the APPG does intend to revisit those issues brought to our attention by the witnesses which undoubtedly require further attention two notable examples of which are the areas of population – as raised by Malcolm Potts; food sovereignty as raised by several witnesses and; precision farming as raised by Simon Blackmore.

The result of all our work will be put to DFID for reply. A full copy of this report, the written submissions and minutes from the oral evidence sessions are available for download at www.agricultureandfoodfordevelopment.org/inquiry.

This is the time for action and, while Parliamentarians have often been neglected as the vehicle for change in terms of food security, there is much that can be done in the Parliaments of the developed and developing worlds to remedy this situation. Rising food prices at home and abroad have created a level of public awareness and understanding not seen since the mid-1980s which in turn has created a unique opportunity for action in 2010. The cost of further inaction, however, does not bear thinking about.

We commend this report to you

David Curry & Lord Cameron of Dillington
Co-Chairs
APPG on Agriculture and Food for Development

Ian Gibson
Former Chair
APPG on Agriculture and Food for Development

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