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Washington DC conference on global food reserves

02 November 2009

On 15 October 2009, Share the World’s Resources presented at an event hosted at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC on the potential and pitfalls of instituting a series of global food reserves.

Following sharp rises in food prices in 2007-2008 and a growing number of hungry people around the world, many policymakers and international institutions have recently discussed the possibility of reinstituting food reserves on a national, regional or international level. Against this backdrop, ActionAid USA and the Institute of Agriculture Policy (IATP) hosted a public meeting on 15 October in Washington DC to review the use of food reserves and suggest ways in which food stocks could contribute to global food security.

As part of a panel discussion on the institutional possibilities and challenges for implementing a series of global food reserves, STWR stressed the need to view food reserves in the context of much wider reforms required in food and agriculture policy. We argued that although a series of global reserves for supply management and emergency humanitarian relief are desirable, there remain severe institutional constraints to creating or operating them.

STWR called for a Global Convention on Food Security to address these institutional shortfalls, as well as to bring the disparate actors in the food system together in a genuine form of multilateral cooperation to end hunger. 

On the same panel, Dr. Daryll Ray of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee noted that food reserves should be a central tool for regulating agricultural markets and managing food supply. On the international level, he proposed that a structure similar to the US Federal Reserve could mandate and operate a reserve system under the auspices of the United Nations.

A number of other speakers, including representatives from the UN World Food Programme and the US Department of Agriculture, discussed the viability of using reserves and looked at best practice moving forward.

Sophia Murphy of IATP noted that food reserves can be one effective method to correct market failures and protect consumers and farmers against the effects of volatile prices. Regional representatives from Senegal, Brazil and Canada examined specific case studies of employing reserves, and noted that food stocks can play an important role in addressing price instability and food needs on both the local and national level.

Looking specifically at the United States, participants from the National Farmers’ Union and American Corn Growers Association stated that some of the causes of hunger and endemically low prices for farmers can be traced to the deregulation of agriculture markets encouraged by the 1985 and 1996 US Farm Bills. Government intervention in agriculture should play a central role in addressing the food crisis both internationally and in the United States, according to these panelists.

Victor Suarez, director of the National Association of Rural Commercialization Enterprises in Mexico, noted that monopolies of power and the practices of large agribusiness underpinned the food crisis. Food reserves backed by a strong government role could be used to address these imbalances, he stated.

Many of the participants at the Conference also took part in a formal working group on food reserves prior to and following the event, hoping to carry the issue to the forthcoming World Summit on Food Security from 13 November in Rome.

Further Resources:

STWR powerpoint presentation for the Washington conference

Press release for a STWR policy brief on global food reserves

PDF of STWR policy brief: Global Food Reserves - Framing the Context for a New Multilateralism

Filed under: 
Poverty and hunger