2013 Food Security Regional Dialogue-Medan: Meeting Food Security Goals with Good Policy

The University of Adelaide economics and food policy experts continue to lead the development of effective policy and strategies for food security in the Asia-Pacific Region.

The University hosted a meeting in Medan, Indonesia on 26-27 June with over 40 delegates from developing economy members of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), including experts in agricultural trade, services and food value chains.  The participants debated one of the big questions of the decade: ‘how to feed the world?’

Organised together with Bogor Agricultural University, one of the University of Adelaide’s key partners in Indonesia, the meeting was sponsored by AusAid, the Australian Government’s overseas aid program.  It was co-organised by Professor Christopher Findlay, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Professions at the University of Adelaide and Dr Don Gunasekera, a Senior Economist at CSIRO.

Delegates agreed on a number of key recommendations to be reported to APEC officials and policymakers, including reference to nutrition, trade policy and agricultural and food value chains.

This meeting was designed to challenge thinking about food security and break down the goal of food security into more specific objectives, allowing for the development of policies and strategies to tackle each objective.

Key recommendations from the meeting included the value of focussing not just on the volume of food produced, but also on the nutritional value of production.  Delegates agreed that too many policies are based on a narrow view of food security and as a result, end up supporting production of food, which is now less valuable to consumers.

“Good policy in this area is important for South Australia,” says Professor Findlay (Executive Dean of the Faculty of Professions). “Australia wants to help meet the growth in demand for clean and green food in East Asia and that depends on good policy leading to open markets for food and free flows of investment. That also contributes to food security.”

Another of the big issues in this topic is the design of the chains linking farmers with consumers.  The Global Food Studies team has several substantial research projects focused on this topic.

The meeting is part of the University’s growing program of work on food security and its outcomes are expected to have a significant impact. Presenters were drawn from the University’s extensive collaborator network, including think tanks and research centres in East Asia.   More information, including presentations can be found on the Global Food Studies website.

This is a follow-up to a series of activities hosted by the University in 2012 to promote food security dialogue in the region, including the national forum on food security: “Reframing the Agenda: Food Security to 2050”.

The Concept of Food Security

At the World Food Summit in 1996, the FAO introduced a comprehensive and multi-dimensional concept of food security: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”.

The concept is built on four pillars: availability, access, utilisation and stability of the other three aspects.

Five country representatives from China (Professor Tian Weiming of China Agricultural University), Philippines (Professor Salvador Catelo of University of the Philippines Los Baños), Indonesia (Professor Ronnie Natawidjaja of University of Padjajaran), Vietnam (Dr Nguyen Trung Kien of Center for Agricultural Policy) and Chinese Taipei (Professor Ching-Cheng Chang of National Taiwan University) prepared country reports and presented progress and challenges facing their economies to meet food security goals at the Medan meeting.

Yet whilst country variations exist in terms of policy design and implementation, it is interesting to learn from the Medan meeting that quite often policy makers across the region adopt a narrow definition of food security solely putting emphasis on the availability aspect in particular food quantity through self-sufficiency programs.

Participants broadly agreed that a more comprehensive concept of food security which considers nutritional intake and individual preferences (including religious and cultural preferences) should be adopted.

Policy Options

Policies to meet food security goals should not only cause minimum distortions to food markets and environmental consequences but also be effectively delivered to targeted recipients, regularly monitored and provide assistance to smallholders.

Delegates viewed that improvement in productivity is inevitable especially to increase production in the long-run. Yet, a whole-of-chain approach through improving effectiveness of food supply chains from farm to consumers is essential.

Professor Tom Reardon (Michigan State University) explained that there is evidence for ‘the Quiet Revolution’ in food supply chains in many developing countries where small farms experienced rapid modernisation, mechanisation, and intensification.

The role of government to create an enabling enviroment for farmers and grass-roots private sector is significant through agricultural R&D (for example to research on seed varieties), infrastructure development (ports, roads, electricity grids, permitting cell-phone expansion) and promoting information and extension.

Given the new pattern of the world trade,  global value chains are also affecting food production and distribution as explained by Dr Sherry Stephenson, a Senior Fellow at ICTSD. As a consequence, transport services have increased and logistics Costs are more and more important and constitute a key factor in competitiveness.

Dr Nicholas Minot(Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI) added to the discussion in Medan that transformation of agricultural markets, where there have been growing importance of high-value agriculture, rapid growth of supermarkets and other modern retailers due to changing diets, urbanisation, increased income, trade and foreign direct investments, may affect food security. His presentation was derived from an ACIAR-funded collaborative project called “Markets for high-value commodities in Indonesia: Promoting competitiveness and inclusiveness” between Global Food Studies at University of Adelaide (Associate Professor Wendy Umberger, Professor Randy Stringer and Wahida), IFPRI, CAPAS, Michigan State University and ICASEPS.

For consumers, these changes may mean increased access to more varieties of food, whilst for farmers they can creat opportunities (for example, from provision of technical assistance and higher prices) as well as challenges (for example to meet higher quality standards and minimum quantity requirements).

Regional Partnerships

Regional networks may facilitate interaction between economies to further develop strategies to meet national food security goals. One example is Agricultural Technical Cooperation Working Group (ATCWG).

As explained by Professor Nie Fengying, ATCWG serves “as a forum for member economies to enhance the capacity of agriculture and its related industries to contribute to economic growth, food security and social well-being in the region”.

The Policy Partnership on Food Security (PPFS) can also serve as a platform for regional policy dialogue and partnerships not only between governments but also public-private partnerships.

In 2010, APEC Ministers responsible for food security declared that consultation with relevant stakeholders is critical to making sustained progress towards food security goals. Then, in 2011 APEC senior officials agreed to form the PPFS.

More specifically, as presented by Dr Tjuk Eko Hari Basuki  the objective of PPFS is “facilitation of investment, trade and markets and sustainable development of the agricultural sector as outlined in the Niigata Declaration on Food Security”.

 The importance of regional partnerhsips and dialogue is even more evident when inter-economy impacts of an economy’s agricultural and trade policy are taken into account. Associate Professor Anna Strutt (University of Waikato) and Dr Signe Nelgen (University of Adelaide) presented their work entitled “Food security scenarios for the Asia Pacific – inter-sectoral and inter-economy perspectives”.

Using Agricultural Distortions database where Professor Kym Anderson of School of Economics at University of Adelaide took a leadership role, their study concluded that policies to promote self-sufficiency through the use of protectionist trade policies such as tariff may lead to a worsening of key food security indicators such as household food consumption.

But if agricultural productivity improvements are part of the policy mix, the impacts will be less severe. However, retaliatory trade policies are likely to worsen conditions.

Delegates concluded the meeting by presenting a comprehensive list of good policy guidelines for good policy and follow on activities.

 The complete list of presentations can be found here.

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