Supporting Global Efforts To Respond to Food Price Volatility

Posted by Chris Hegadorn
May 22, 2011
Participants at Food Workshop in Jordan May 2011

The U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome (USUN Rome) is supporting work underway by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to respond to rising global food prices via regional policy workshops to address short and longer-term responses to food price volatility. Through a cash contribution and participation by U.S. officials at these workshops, USUN Rome is partnering with FAO and other key multilateral agencies to draw attention to this issue and supporting efforts to address the impacts of high global food prices and price volatility.

On behalf of the U.S. government, I participated in the FAO's latest policy workshop held in Amman, Jordan, from May 9-10. Jordan's Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Sameer Habashneh and FAO Regional Director Dr. Saad Al-Otaibi opened the workshop which was also attended by officials from Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen (Kuwait, Qatar, and UAE were invited but did not attend).  Participants shared their governments' experiences in addressing food price shocks of 2007-2008, and described steps to confront continued high prices in this food import-dependent and politically volatile region.

The Near East region imports at least 50 percent of the food calories its population consumes.  As the world's largest net importer of cereals, the Near East region is more exposed than most to severe swings in agricultural commodity prices.  According to the FAO, the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, that vulnerability is likely to persist amidst continued dependence on world markets, rapid population growth and urbanization, and low agricultural productivity.  The three agencies recommended a mix of strategies for the region to help offset vulnerabilities, including strengthening social safety nets, family planning services, and education, as well as addressing lagging productivity via investment in research, and by improving supply chain efficiency and financing mechanisms. The Jordanian Agriculture Minister encouraged governments in the region to strengthen management of land and water resources, improve seed research and marketing networks, and enhance regional trade and policy coordination.

Participants also raised concerns about changing climate and rainfall patterns, the impacts of biofuel production on global markets, and the value of better agricultural trade and production statistics to enhance policy-making and effectiveness of government responses.  Given the wide-ranging disparities in incomes throughout the Near East, attendees welcomed further investment within the region from wealthier Gulf states as well as more intra-regional trade to improve livelihoods.

I offered a briefing on current actions being taken in Rome at the UN food and agriculture agencies, as well as efforts by the U.S. with its global food security strategy -- "Feed Future." Following just days after Secretary Clinton addressed diplomats and senior UN officials in Rome on the topic of global food security, participants were pleased to receive links to her speech and to information about U.S. efforts to promote maternal and child nutrition through the "Standing Up Nutrition: 1,000 Days" campaign.  Similar interest was shown to FAO's joint work with the OECD and other agencies on food price volatility, including a paper on the topic to be presented in June to G-20 agriculture ministers in France.

Joining the Amman conference were experts from the IMF, the UN Secretary General's High Level Task Force Secretariat, UNDP, UNIDO, the Islamic Development Bank, the Arab Monetary Fund, and several regional think tanks and private companies.  A final report of the session will be posted by FAO on its website, along with a summary report to be delivered to the Secretariat of the UN Committee on World Food Security which meets in Rome in October.  Following the Amman seminar, similar workshops will be conducted in Turkey, Malawi, Gabon, and Central America. More information can be located on these regional seminars at FAO.org under the project entitled "Initiative on Soaring Food Prices."

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