So do we have the solution to world hunger, or was the CFS Summit just a big talking shop? – Tearfund's Policy Blog

October 19, 2012 By Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor

If only all UN Summits were this exciting…

You may have realised that I’ve been at an annual Food Summit, known as the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS), in Rome [previous post here].  It’s been a rollercoaster of a week – reaching the highs has taken some definite lows along the way – but overall it’s been great.

No one expected us to come up with a solution to world hunger in a week.  But we have made progress with agreements on several important and often controversial issues.  Over 100 governments, UN agencies, business and civil society, that make up the CFS (get used to the acronym!) have come together on these issues.  There has been a lot of talking, and talking can only ever be the first stage – it must be followed by action, and the CFS must implement what it has agreed.

A really wide range of civil society attendees have been here, from Latin America to Japan and they’ve brought sobering, moving stories of exactly why we’re here – of the impact these issues have on the lives of those living in poverty.  For example I heard a representative of indigenous peoples speak movingly about his friends in Colombia who died to protect their land, whilst land Voluntary Guidelines (see below) were written.

Investing in agriculture responsibly 

We have agreed a way forward to develop principles for responsible investment in agriculture by sovereign countries, investor funds and individuals.  These are not to be confused with World Bank principles of a very similar name, but of a much more damaging nature…  There was a lot of fear amongst civil society that the World Bank principles would be taken as a starting point to develop the principles for the CFS.  However, the intense negotiations before this annual meeting meant that everyone agreed on a consultation to develop separate principles over the next 2 years.  We’re really hopeful that these principles will truly help to guide responsible agricultural investment; investment which represents wild meadow opportunities.

Land tenure for farmers and herders 

Another piece of good news.  Earlier this year, the CFS finally agreed on Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure.  Civil society hopes that this will give smallholder farmers and herders more rights and prevent land grabbing.  They are only voluntary, so I was encouraged to hear that UN member states have committed funding to help national governments implement the guidelines, and practical guides will show exactly what this might look like.

For me, the real icing on the cake was at a side event, hearing a minister from Sierra Leone talk about how his government used the guidelines when signing contracts for land with foreign investors.  This meant really practical steps forward, like the contracts stating that the investors must pay for the water they use to irrigate crops, and that the government needed to monitor water table levels, which the local communities depend upon.  This is a very exciting first step – and reassures me that the Summit is more than a talking shop.  It’s resulting in change on the ground.  More of this please!

Climate change 

Now one final outstanding issue – the impact of climate change on smallholder farmers.  This has been one of the most embittered battles, with negotiations running until 1am some nights.  Civil society has had to give some ground, giving up support for organic and sustainable farming practices (agro-ecology) to avoid climate-smart agriculture being included.  Large agri-businesses have taken a hard stance on the issue of intellectual property rights of seeds and were supported in this by other countries.  No agreement has yet been reached on this – I’ll post an update next week.

As I head home there will be much to think about, and much for civil society to take forwards.  I really was encouraged by the comments from the Sierra Leone Minister.  His remarks gave me confidence (and joy!) that something agreed by the CFS – and only in May this year – can actually be put into practice, and have an impact on food security on the ground.  Provided the principles for responsible agriculture investment go the same way, then I think the CFS will prove beyond doubt it’s not a talking shop and we are well on our way to step up our efforts to reduce hunger together!