The G8 Food Summit: No Solutions to World Hunger

The G8 Agricultural Ministers’ Meeting has offered no fresher solution to the food crisis than the tired mantra of increasing production. When will they recognise the potential of small scale local farming to end hunger and promote food security?

22nd April 09 ~ STWR

On 18 to 21 April 2009, G8 agriculture ministers convened in Treviso, Italy, for their first meeting on agriculture in an effort to prevent a repeat of the food crisis responsible for the severe hunger and social unrest last year. The issues of protectionism, the volatility of food prices, and a proposal for global grain reserves (which could counteract the problem of low stocks and consequent price spikes) were central to the meeting's agenda.

Although global food prices have fallen by as much as 40 to 50 percent since their peak in 2008, they remain disproportionately high – around double their value a decade ago. The global financial crisis is only compounding the issue of hunger: UN figures reveal that with the deepening downturn the number of chronically hungry has surpassed 1 billion for the first time in history.

A significant outcome of the summit was the leaders’ first official admission that the world is “very far” from achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of the world’s population facing poverty and undernourishment by the year 2015. In the words of Chris Leather, Oxfam International’s senior food advisor, “The G8 has failed the world’s one billion hungry people.”

The summit’s final declaration upholds a position in favour of increased food production and against protectionism, rather than offering fresh proposals to tackle hunger. Ironically the food crisis actually began during a bumper harvest – it was caused not by a shortage of production but by the skewed priorities of the international trading system, commodity speculation, and the increased use of corn to make biofuels amongst other factors.

There is an undoubted need to boost food production in poor countries, but a narrow emphasis on increased production will not ascertain food security. A preferable approach would be to implement rural development policies offering sustained support to small scale farmers and agro-ecological methods of production. Small, local farms serve the food security of communities, whilst their biodiverse nature is favourable to the environment.

For this reason key players in the non-governmental (NGO) sector are urging leaders to commit to long term investment in small scale food producers and to significantly shift away from industrial agricultural practices, especially in developing countries where small farmers lack economic strength.

As revealed in the NGO statements below, most civil society representatives regret that the G8 summit was a lost opportunity to bring about change. The failed global governance of agriculture and food is a central cause of the hunger now faced by millions of people, and the call made by La Via Campesina and other NGOs for fundamental reform of the relevant UN agencies is urgently required. 

Solving the food crisis is a matter of political choice, rather than increased food production. As Dr Vandana Shiva argued in a recent interview on the G8 Food Summit, hunger is built into the present industrialised, globalised food system. Until food has been recovered from the world of speculation and returned to the hands of democratic governance, there can be no G8 solution to the global food crisis.

G8 Pledges Sustainability in Food Security Drive - Euractiv

G8 Ministers admit Failure on Hunger - Oxfam International

The G8 Should Clean Up its Own Mess - La Via Campesina

G8 Outcome is Matter of Life and Death for one Billion Hungry - ActionAid UK

Further Resources

G8 Pledges Sustainability in Food Security Drive

21st April 09 - Euractiv

The first ever meeting between agriculture ministers from the world's eight most industrialised nations (G8) called for more public and private investment in sustainable farming to boost food supplies and ensure global food security.

G8 agriculture ministers yesterday (20 April) called for more food be grown to feed the world's hungry, given the lack of progress in tackling poverty and problems in balancing food supply with demand. 

A global promise to ease hunger for millions had been worsened by the financial turmoil, while fears about global food security would continue due to price volatility and a delicate balance between supply and demand, the ministers declared. 

They said public and private investment in sustainable farming and rural development needed to be increased, and called for increased support including investments in agricultural science, research, technology, education, extension services and innovation. 


The ministers denounced the 'food protectionism' exercised by rich and poor countries alike in the form of export bans and import duties in farming, and stressed the importance of a rules-based international system for farm trade.

International organisations such as the World Food Programme have called for self-restraint in curbing exports, criticising export bans imposed by countries hit by rising prices which it says are impeding efforts to get food to the world's neediest. 

While richer countries are keen to protect their markets - Russia, the largest importer of US chickens, aims to become self-sufficient in poultry and pork in two years, for example - many poorer countries reacted to 2008's spikes in food prices by slapping export bans on staple foods like rice and wheat.

Price Volatility

But farmers also needed to be shielded from negative trade distortions and be allowed to produce nutritious food, ministers said, pledging to monitor factors causing price volatility in commodity markets, including the role of speculative trading. 

"There should be monitoring and further analysis of factors potentially affecting price volatility in commodity markets, including speculation," the G8 farm ministers' statement said. 

"We underline the importance of a rules-based international trading system for agricultural trade [and] wish to support the role of well functioning markets as a means for improving food security," it continued. The ministers also said renewable energy production from biomass should be increased, calling for policies to emphasise development and commercialisation of second-generation biofuels. 

Global Grain Stocks

The ministers also outlined the merits of buffer grain stocks as an emergency food facility to ease price shocks and curb speculative commodity trading, and said they would ask international organisations to examine the "feasibility and administrative modalities" of a common stockholding system. But they fell short of specifying which commodity stocks might be involved. 

"We call on the relevant international institutions to examine whether a system of stock holding could be effective in dealing with humanitarian emergencies or as a means of limiting price volatility," the statement added. 

"In light of this outcome, it will be examined whether further steps should be envisaged and whether a consultation process should be established," it said. 


The final declaration does not refer to the sensitive issue of 'land-grabbing'. A growing trend is for governments to invest in farm projects beyond their borders. Countries in the arid Gulf Arab region have blazed the trail, hoping to achieve greater food security and also spend less on major grain purchases. The phenomenon has, however, drawn sharp criticism for ignoring the interests of local populations. 

The heads of two UN agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said cross-border farmland deals could be mutually beneficial and help boost global food security. 

"I would not call it 'land-grabbing' [...] There is a potential for win-win situations," IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze said. 

There was a risk of depriving poor farmers of access to farmland in their own countries when foreign investors moved in. But if the deals took both parties' interests into account, they could help raise farm production, exports and provide jobs, the officials said. 


"I think there have been strong messages to try and cut the head off 'ugly' protectionism," European Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said. "It might even be counter-productive, and reinforce the difficulties that we have on food security, because it could reduce the incentives for farmers to produce," she added. 

United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that without increased agricultural productivity and food output, global food insecurity would lead to social unrest across the world, linking food security to national and environmental security.

He also warned farm ministers against the idea of creating global grain reserves [to help mitigate price shocks and reduce speculative commodity trade], saying they might not be the ideal tool to ensure food price stability. 

Vilsack said the US experience with such schemes had shown it was better to focus on technical advances in irrigation, seed varieties, machinery and farming methods. 

Greenpeace urged ministers to act on the results of a recent International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which concluded that while certain agricultural technologies have contributed to substantial productivity increases in the past, these same technologies, such as pesticides and fertilisers, now threaten the social and environmental sustainability of agriculture. In order to address the food crisis in long term, G8 governments must "dramatically increase their investments in smallholder ecological farming systems, while putting an end to subsidies that promote unsustainable industrial agriculture," the NGO said. 

CIDSE, an international alliance of Catholic development agencies, also urged G8 countries to promote policies that will increase the long-term resilience and productive capacity of rural communities in developing countries. CIDSE believes that there should be massive renewed investment in agriculture at both national and international levels, but stresses that a narrow emphasis on raising production will not provide sustainable food security. 

Efforts must go beyond increasing production to address the wide variety of constraints faced by small-scale farmers and rural communities in developing countries, including access to credit, natural resources such as land and water, and market information, CIDSE argued. 

"G8 countries cannot ignore the role they played in advocating policies such as global trade liberalisation, structural adjustment and using practices such as dumping, putting millions of small scale farmers in danger and contributing to the current situation of food insecurity in developing countries. They now have a responsibility to get it right," said CIDSE Secretary-General Bernd Nilles. 

International aid agency Oxfam also said that the answer to the global food crisis is not increased production in rich countries but support for the world's poorest farmers. Oxfam is calling on G8 countries "to commit to long-term, predictable assistance to small-scale food producers in developing countries. They must ensure that poor farmers have a voice in discussions aimed at addressing the food crisis and for the radical reform of rich country trade, energy, agriculture and financial policies that have helped create the crisis".

Next step:

8-10 July 2009: The agriculture ministers' joint declaration will be submitted to the leaders of the G8 countries in their summit.

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G8 Agriculture Ministers admit Failure on Hunger

20th April 09 - Oxfam International

Political leaders have admitted that they will probably fail to deliver on promises to halve world hunger by 2015, said international agency Oxfam at the close of a G8 Meeting on Agriculture in Italy today.

"G8 Ministers have made an extraordinary admission of collective failure. This would be a sack-able offence in any other arena," said Chris Leather, Oxfam International’s Senior Food Advisor. “The G8 has failed the world’s one billion hungry people.”

It now falls to Development Ministers, who are meeting at the end of April, to come up with concrete proposals to tackle the food crisis. These proposals must be agreed by Heads of State when they meet in July. “When leaders of the world’s richest countries meet in July they must put an end to the grandstanding and take concrete action to end hunger," said Leather.

The final communiqué from the G8 Agriculture Ministers meeting says the world is ‘very far from reaching’ the United Nations goal of halving the number of people facing chronic hunger by 2015. This is the closest Ministers have come to admitting they will not deliver on the Millennium Development Goal – one of the eight international development goals that 192 United Nations member states agreed to achieve by the year 2015.

An extra 150 million people have become chronically hungry in the last year as a consequence of high food prices, making the world total near to one billion people. Without urgent action the number will increase rapidly due to the global economic crisis and in the face of climate change.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture agency has called on world leaders to take action in order to eradicate world hunger by 2025. However setting a new goal will achieve little if rich countries fail to deliver on their promises.

Oxfam is calling for G8 leaders to commit to a legally binding international convention that aims to eradicate hunger. There is currently no way of holding governments to account for their failure to deliver on promises to tackle hunger. A legally binding commitment would enable civil society to hold governments to account for their failure to prevent people dying from hunger in a world where we have the means to prevent it.

Oxfam welcomes the G8’s commitment to agriculture and the need to boost food production by poor farmers in developing countries. However it is also calling for G8 countries to commit to favor and support the establishment of ambitious food and agriculture policies in poor countries that will increase food production and protect people in chronic poverty against shocks such as drought, floods, and market volatility.

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The G8 should Clean up their Own Mess instead of Dictating to Poor Countries what to do

17th april 09 - La Via Campesina

On the 18-21st of April 2009 the governments of the G8 countries will come together in Treviso – Italy for their first meeting on agriculture. The agenda will focus on food security and how the agricultural sector could contribute to a revival of the economy. Besides technical issues, the Doha round, Global Partnership, FAO reform, agro fuels and climate change will also be discussed.

La Via Campesina is extremely concerned about the outcomes, as the G8 is not the appropriate place to define solutions for the food price crisis. It is not the role of the richest countries to define what the poorest should do!

This „Agricultural G8“ which has been expanded to include Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa and Egypt, shows the importance of agriculture within the new international infrastructure established in the wake of the financial crisis. These governments expect to find a solution through the same policies of international governance which have created the problem.

The rural crisis is to a large extend the result of ongoing neo-liberal structural adjustment policies and trade liberalisation pushed especially by the G8, which destroy peasant based food production and turn large numbers of countries from net food producers into net food importers, making them heavily dependent on international markets.

This ongoing de-regulation of agricultural markets combined with speculative capital coming from financial markets caused huge speculation on food prices. It destabilized domestic markets, throwing millions more into hunger and poverty. Governments of the world have put the dogma of the free market above peoples' needs. It is now evident that this ideology leads only to bankruptcy and poverty.

In London the G20 announced an 850 million dollar program to „support “developing countries” in countering the financial crisis, to be executed by the IMF and the World Bank. We fear that this program will be a new instrument similar to Structural Adjustment Programs and the WTO, which will impose neo-liberal policies.

At the same time we see Transnational Companies with the support of the big foundations moving aggressively into Africa, where they hope to impose a second „green revolution“ (through the sale of fertilizers and GMO seeds) and to grab millions of hectares of land for future food and agro-fuel production. For these corporations profit – and not hunger alleviation – is the priority.

We are seeing big international investors and speculators move away from financial products and into to food products and agricultural land in the South. We can just wait for the next bubble to explode, for the next crisis to emerge.

Instead of maintaining and reinforcing the same policies, we need a re-orientation of the food system towards food sovereignty. We want the peasant model of sustainable food production to be recognized as an answer to the climate and food price crisis.

The G8 should discuss and analyze their own agricultural policies, especially the CAP and the Farm Bill, in order to evaluate their contributions to the food price crisis and take the necessary counter measures. The CAP through the export-refund system (on milk for example) essentially dumps agricultural products in third countries, destroying their internal markets and thus making it impossible for local producers to compete.

The G8 should not give more financial assistance for seeds and fertilizers but support and encourage national governments to take up their responsibility and restructure their agriculture systems away from corporate led, export oriented production. National governments should implement the following measures:

  • Bring the disastrous volatility of food prices in domestic markets to a standstill by taking full control over the import and export of food in order to stabilize local markets.
  • Set up policies to actively support peasant-based food production and artisan fishing, local markets and the implementation of agrarian and aquatic reform. We do not want all the funds go into fertilizers and GMO seeds which exclusively benefit Transnational Companies and damage soils and biodiversity.
  • Stop corporate land grabbing for industrial agro-fuels and food production.

We call upon the G8 countries to recognize the failures of their policies and the devastating impacts these policies have had on peasant food production. We need a dramatic improvement in the global governance of agriculture and food.

The G8 should give its full support to a fundamental reform of the UN agencies (Food and Agriculture Organisation-FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development - IFAD and the World Food Program - WFP) as well as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research - CGIAR to come to one single space in the UN system that acts in total independence of the WTO, the WB and the IMF, that has a clear mandate from governments, a decisive participation of peasant, fisher folk and other Civil Society Organisations, and a transparent and democratic process of decision making.

We are against the creation of the so called “Global partnership”. We protest vigorously against the circus of the ongoing creation of new structures and spaces. They are bound to fail again and again as they undermine existing bodies and continue to implement the same bad policies.

A conclusion of the Doha round as well as of other Free Trade agreements is unacceptable as they will only serve to deepen the crisis in peasant food production. The WTO, World Bank and IMF should be forbidden to interfere in domestic food policies food is not only a “technical” issue. Living in a world where everyone can eat and where farmers can make a living is a question of political decision. We are demanding that the leaders of the world take up that challenge.

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G8 Outcome is Matter of Life and Death for One Billion Hungry

20th April 09 - ActionAid UK

G8 agriculture ministers meeting in Italy this weekend must inject an additional $30 billion a year into helping small-scale farmers grow more food to stop an extra half a million people going hungry each day.

At present one billion people globally do not have enough to eat – more than the populations of the US, Canada and the European Union put together. The terrifying prospect of growing global populations, coupled with climate change, will exacerbate this. Global warming alone could increase the number of hungry by another billion by 2080.

Shockingly, half of those already hungry are small-scale farmers, who are unable to grow enough food to feed themselves and their families.

ActionAid agriculture expert Livia Zoli said: "Compared to the US bail-out package of $12.6 trillion, $30 billion a year is peanuts. In these brutal economic times, hunger is fast becoming the forgotten crisis. But this is a crisis of epic proportions.

"In the last three months, the official hunger records have swelled by 40 million – that is half a million more people a day during 2009 being pushed into chronic hunger.

"The world is facing a hungry and bleak future unless we radically reform agriculture."

In the last 25 years, spending on aid to agriculture has decreased by 85 per cent for multilateral donors and by nearly 40 per cent for bilateral donors.

In the first half of 2008 there was renewed interest in agriculture, due to the food crisis. But apart from official statements, this has turned into very modest financial aid.

Ms Zoli said: "The export-oriented agriculture model driven by landlords, plantation owners and giant agriculture and food companies, has failed. It is time for donor countries to radically change their thinking and approach."

ActionAid is calling on the G8 agricultural ministers to:

  • Stop imposing trade rules and economic policy conditions that make it difficult for developing country governments to support small-scale farmers and agriculture. Support developing countries’ proposals for tariff protection to allow them to shield key agricultural goods from the vagaries of international prices.
  • Agree to support a UN-led Global Partnership on food with equal power and say between donor and poor countries. This would see a huge scaling-up of funding directed towards supporting national governments plans to support smallholders and sustainable agriculture.
  • Shift investment in research and development from genetically modified crops to sustainable ecological farming methods, especially those that will increase food production of smallholder farmers in developing countries.
  • Push for the cancellation of 100 per cent of outstanding debts of all 65 IDA (International Development Association) countries without economic policy conditions. Additionally, the G8 should investigate past lending to uncover and cancel all unjust debts, including illegitimate debts.
  • Abolish in-kind food aid and replace it with multilateral or bilateral cash donations to purchase food at regional or local level, making more efficient use of scarce resources and supporting the development of local and regional markets. Increased emphasis on local purchases of food could also bolster efforts to establish local or regional reserves that could be accessed quickly in cases of food emergencies.

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