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Global food reserves: a key step towards ending hunger

20 October 2009

Food reserves could play an important role in a longer-term strategy to achieve universal food security if implemented as part of a new international framework for trade and agriculture, finds a study released today by Share The World's Resources.

STWR Brief (PDF): Global Food Reserves - Framing the Context for a New Multilateralism

The issue of food reserves has received renewed attention from policymakers following the major increase in world food prices that pushed an additional 115 million people into hunger in 2007 and 2008. With the threat of world food price inflation returning, proposals for a system of globally-coordinated food stocks have recently been considered at several high-level international forums, including the G-8 meeting and the United Nations General Assembly.

While welcoming recent discussions about instituting food reserves at the local, regional or international level, the paper emphasises the continuing structural problems that underlie the volatility in agricultural commodity markets. Without wider changes in agriculture and trade policy, it remains unlikely that food reserves would make a significant impact on global food security, argues STWR.

The briefing paper proposes that policymakers adopt a two-pronged strategy in approaching the issue of reserves; firstly, as part of a multilateral supply management framework, and secondly to address critical food shortfalls in humanitarian emergencies.

The paper argues that self-interest drives the current support for food reserves from the major industrialised and food exporting countries, which constrains their effective implementation as mechanisms for achieving food security.

New Vision Needed

"We need a bold new vision for food and agriculture policymaking," said STWR. "Food reserves should be employed as part of genuine multilateral cooperation between nations, rather than with the end aim of propping up the existing trade export regime that favours countries such as the US and EU."

Any move towards the creation of multilaterally coordinated food reserves would likely need the adoption of a new international treaty and legal regime, the paper states. To address the democratic deficit that characterises a number of other institutional structures dealing with food and agriculture policy, STWR encourages sympathetic governments, UN agencies, civil society groups and farmers' organisations to push for a Global Convention on Food Security coordinated by the United Nations.

The Convention could initiate a broader and more inclusive international dialogue on food and agriculture policies, and create a binding human rights framework to promote, protect and realise the Right to Food, says STWR.

"A Global Convention on Food Security could put human rights rather than international trade at the centre of a new framework for food security," says Willoughby. "The ultimate goal of any reform should be to manage the negative impact of international trade flows on developing countries, to improve the productive capacity of poorer nations, and to improve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers."