The 2014 Crawford Fund Parliamentary Conference: Pre-conference note on food security

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to attend the 2014 Annual Parliamentary Conference organised by the Crawford Fund. Looking at its impressive list of speakers, there is no doubt that the conference will address some of the key challenges that the global food production is facing. I also love Canberra and am always looking forward to visiting the city.

The conference has an interesting title “Ethics, Efficiency and Food Security: Feeding the 9 billion, well”. Reading through the program, we can easily see that topics such as investments in women, Australia’s role, nutrition, climate change, population growth, trade-offs between food and animal feed and between food and energy will be some of the key topics. To me, all topics look relevant to current issues in global agricultural systems and are important.

One thing that I will be particularly interested is the governance of these attempts to achieve global food security. Are all countries on the same page about what goals we actually mean when we try to achieve food security despite the fact we all seem to agree that it is not only about availability but also about quality and access? Do we have common goals? This is related to a post that I wrote last year on Food Security and Common Goals.

Also, who should take a lead in these food security movements? Can we better involve the private sector? What kind of enabling environments or regulatory frameworks that governments in both developing and developed countries should provide to ensure sustainable agricultural development, and therefore improvement in food security? These governance-related aspects would be highly relevant to most topics that the conference will address.

Another topic that I hope will be covered at the conference is how to assist smallholders whilst keep market distortions minimum.

I am teaching a course here at the University of Adelaide on global agricultural and food markets. Last week we had a discussion on food crisis and food reserve. One topic that came up was whether developing countries should allow foreign companies investing in their agricultural sectors that might increase competition faced by smallholders or should they continue to protect smallholders by putting protectionist policies?

We have students from various countries, from Africa, Latin America, Asia as well as Australia. To me, the class was ‘a mini WTO negotiation’. It’s complex and everyone seems to have valid arguments.

Assistance for smallholders is a long-debated topic. We all agree that agricultural policies might positively impact on poverty reduction. But at the same time, in many cases, the costs are too high. This issue brings back questions about how we should better design and deliver public and private programs; should the government directly target the poor instead of farmers considering the heterogeneity of farmers; and again, how we should involve more stakeholders in this process?

We might need to have renewed commitment on how we should achieve food security.


Link to a report from the Networking Dinner on 26 August 2014, 6pm-9pm: Dont forget the ladies: the role of women in agriculture

Link to a report from the Conference Day on 27 August 2014: Report 2 (TBC)

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