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Published July 11, 2011, 05:42 AM

FAO encouraged by new system as means to improve food security

ROME — U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization officials have expressed enthusiasm for a new global agricultural information system to improve global food security established by the G-20 agriculture ministers, but it’s unclear how well the new system or what affect it will have.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

ROME — U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization officials have expressed enthusiasm for a new global agricultural information system to improve global food security established by the G-20 agriculture ministers, but it’s unclear how well the new system or what affect it will have.

“We will start right away at our level to seek data,” outgoing FAO Director General Jacques Diouf said at the FAO meeting June 23 in Paris, where the plan was approved.

Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO’s representative for Latin America and the Caribbean who was elected as director general for a term that begins in January, said after his election that the G-20 had given FAO “new responsibility.”

The agriculture ministers from the G-20 group of countries launched the new Agricultural Market Information System to try to increase the efficiency of world wheat, maize, rice and soybean markets and reduce price volatility.

AMIS is scheduled to publish its first report in June.

Market volatility issue

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire and World Bank President Robert Zoellick all said at the G-20 meeting in Paris that they think market volatility is one of the biggest food security problems facing developing countries and that lack of information on the food available in the world has led countries to institute export bans that have caused prices to spike unnecessarily.

Zoellick said one of the biggest accomplishments in Paris was convincing China and India to participate in the new effort, because those countries have protected supply and demand information as a national security matter. But analysts have said they wonder how quickly those countries will participate and whether the data will be accurate.

And while information from the G-20 countries, which are the 20 biggest economies in the world, will be helpful, the ministers also said that they hoped other countries would agree to provide more information.

“Lack of quality, reliable, accurate, timely and comparable information on market fundamentals may reduce efficiency and accentuate price volatility,” the ministers said in their action plan, adding that they want to strengthen “the collaboration and dialogue among main producing, exporting and importing countries, commercial enterprises and international organizations.”

According to the G-20 action plan, the AMIS secretariat is to be housed at the FAO and a meeting of the AMIS global food market information team is to be held in September to determine how to organize the new effort. At that meeting, participants also are expected to discuss setting up a “rapid response forum” to increase “policy coherence and coordination” in times of crisis.

The London-based International Grains Council, a cooperative group that promotes the exchange of information on wheat, coarse grains, oilseeds and rice, is supposed to be consulted.

Data accuracy, transparency

FAO has no enforcement power against countries that do not provide information, but the G-20 agriculture ministers also tried to put an accuracy check into the new information effort by setting up a Global Agricultural Geomonitoring Initiative that would use remote sensing tools for crop production projections and weather forecasting.

But the ministers put that project in the hands of the Group on Earth Observation, a voluntary effort of nations and organizations that is housed at the World Meterological Organization in Geneva, which, like the FAO, is a U.N. specialized agency. The ministers directed the FAO and the WMO to reach an agreement for AMIS and the geomonitoring initiative to be coordinated by the Group on Earth Observation. The ministers also said that an international workshop on “strengthening agricultural monitoring at national and global scales to improve market transparency” will be organized in September.

“Our processes will be enhanced and improved” by AMIS and satellite surveillance, Vilsack said at a news conference at the Paris meeting, referring to USDA’s world supply and demand reports, which are conducted with great effort and used worldwide.

Noting that when Russia stopped exporting wheat, “there was no response” from other countries, Le Maire said he hoped reliable global information and the rapid response team would discourage such bans in the future.

The FAO and a predecessor organization long have been involved in providing information on supply and demand in as many countries as will participate, however.

Geomonitoring

The ministers set up a schedule for AMIS, the geomonitoring effort and the rapid response team:

- September: Discuss the “terms of reference” for AMIS, identify data collection methods and identify training and capacity building for those countries that are not capable of providing the information.

- January to March: Develop comprehensive food market indicators.

- March: Collect data through electronic questionnaires on an AMIS collaborative website, where participating countries will directly input the data.

- April to May: Prepare and make available an AMIS manual on best practices and methodologies.

- June: Publish first enhanced global market outlook and situation and make plans for monthly monitoring and dissemination thereafter.

Global Agricultural Geomonitoring Initiative schedule:

- September: Define in an international workshop the framework for a network of national and regional organizations to monitor production, define how programs support the effort, and establish a “roadmap” for coordinating space agencies and a satellite observing system covering agricultural production monitoring needs and ensuring its operation.

- June: Outline roles and responsibilities for the GEO, FAO, WMO, space agencies and national monitoring organizations, and secure funding or in-kind contributions for a six-year budget.

Rapid response forum schedule:

- September: At AMIS meeting, discuss guidelines for the functioning of the rapid response forum and for “senior, capital-based agricultural policy officials from the major producing, exporting and importing countries” to participate in the meetings.

- Second half of 2011: At meeting of countries and international organizations to discuss processes and scheduling, with the expectation that future meetings will be held in the case of alert of a food crisis, but at least once a year in conjunction with other international meetings.

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