Future Food Aid Regime

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					Future Food Aid Regime
Comments by Thomas Hoerz, Director, on behalf of Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, Executive
Director of Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe.


General Remarks:

The current food aid convention (FAC) is an instrument built around a mechanism to
guarantee that donor countries’ food surpluses are made available as food aid. It was therefore
for many years driven by donor interests. Critical points were raised by civil society groups
over the years. Food aid has a dangerous potential – if not delivered properly and in a careful
manner- to undermine food security. Food aid, often sourced in donor countries partially as a
means of surplus disposal, can undermine local production and trade because it negatively
affects local markets and the prices poor small-holder farmers receive for their production.
Such tied aid is at the same time often culturally and environmentally inappropriate. It often
comes too late (especially when shipped internationally) and is in most cases more expensive
than would be the purchase of local or regional surpluses.

One could observe changes that during the last years. Donors reacted to such problem and
food aid policies changed for many donors. More and more countries do no longer use (only)
surplus food to meet food aid commitment, but started to pledge financial resources in order
to buy food aid from local or regional surpluses. Today a good understanding has developed,
when in-kind food aid can be useful and under what conditions cash transfers are preferable as
instruments. Food aid was driven for too long from the perspective of the instrument itself.
Instead, we argue, it would be better for a future food aid regime to try and adequately
respond to the problem of food insecurity. In other words, shift from a focus on the tool to the
focus on the problem: widespread hunger.

The timespan before the renegotiation of the FAC should be used to revisit the strengths and
weaknesses of the current system and to ‘think beyond the box’. How would a sensible future
food aid regime look like that will allow to adequately respond not only to effects, but also to
causes of hunger and food insecurity? How would it be organise? In which institutional
setting would it be housed? We consider it a helpful start to focus on

Seven comments on the evolution of a future food aid regime:

1.      A new food aid regime is needed, including a commitment of donors to provide
resources in order to meet the needs of food insecure groups with either financial support to
purchase adequate food or direct provision of food in situations where local markets do not
provide enough food. Each provision of cash or food aid must be a response to real food
insecurity. Depending on the situation, we need to set up criteria for the use of either
instrument. Any future commitment must be a commitment to sufficient, appropriate, timely
and predictable food aid with clear reporting and monitoring mechanism allowing to avoid
misuse of the instrument. The current commitment has not been overly relevant, because the
last four decades worldwide surpluses were always available and actual food aid surpassed
commitments regularly. This might change, or the prices for staple foods might go up
considerably – due to the effects of climate change and due to the future use of agricultural
produce for bio-fuel. A future commitment should cover both, commitments in kind and in
cash in order to guarantee an international minimum reserve of food supplies that can be made
available in emergencies and large scale food deficit situations.

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2.      A future food aid regime should be part of a functioning global food security
architecture: Food aid is one component of an overall package of policy measures needed to
guarantee food security for all. Moreover, food aid must be implemented in a way that it does
not harm food security of the poor. Therefore, a future food aid regime should be part of a
broader overall food security architecture that should be driven by the needs of vulnerable and
food insecure populations. Such an architecture has to cover different modes and forms of
interventions, from early warning, disaster preparedness up to broader support to food
security, agriculture and rural development. It is beyond the reach of the conference to
explore the overall structure, but the future aid regime should fit into the overall system of
response to food insecurity and vulnerability to hunger.

3.     A future food aid regime should be problem focused, based around the objectives to
prevent famine, reduce hunger towards improved food security. It will have a focus to
providing resources in emergency situations, but it should not be limited to emergencies only.
Food based interventions can also be useful in situations of structural hunger and
malnutrition, in particular when recipient countries are missing resources to implement their
own obligations to fulfil a minimum core of the right to adequate food.

4.      A future food aid regime should include sound needs assessments and a variety of
instruments. Sound needs assessments have been described by the voluntary guidelines on
the right to adequate food (see 6 below). Food aid must be targeted especially to food insecure
and vulnerable groups. Food Aid must be demand driven. “…donor states should provide
assistance in a manner that takes into account food safety, the importance of not disrupting
local food production and the nutritional and dietary needs and cultures of recipient
populations.” A sound needs assessment is the precondition for guaranteeing that food aid is
provided problem-oriented. After the assessment, the best instruments need to be selected
from a defined toolbox. All defined instruments / tools should count as commitment of a new
food aid regime. The discussion which instruments are best suited under which circumstance
is quite developed in literature and the SOFA 2006 report of the FAO summarizes the lessons
learnt quite well. If food aid has to be delivered in kind, promoting local and triangular
purchase is a first choice. Only if local markets do not function or food is not available in
kind, direct distribution of food aid has a role. Cash transfer should be promoted wherever
markets are functioning and robust. It is beyond the reach of these comment to present and
reflect on the rich literature that has emerged around cash transfer, but a growing body of
knowledge is available, when and under which conditions which intervention is sensible.

5.      A new institutional setting is needed with a broader representation of
stakeholders: The membership must be broadened to include new food aid donors but also
representation from food aid recipient countries. Participation should also be guaranteed for
input from other stakeholders, particular non-governmental organisations and social
movements. The setting should fully integrate the aspects of humanitarian law and the
perspective of disaster preparedness and of early warning systems. What is needed is the
establishment of a more functional and effective international system that helps to deal more
effectively with emergencies and natural and human made disasters and which are not
governed by political and commercial concerns of some donor countries but as a part of a
broader problem-oriented food security architecture.

6.     A new food aid regime should be human rights based:
Important criteria for a renegotiation of the FAC, or for any other form of institutional setting
in which food aid is organized in future, can be drawn from the right to adequate food. A

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human rights frame allows to identify the obligations of both recipient and donor governments
vis-à-vis the vulnerable population. Obligations of recipient states are detailed explained in
the Genereal Comment No. 12 on the right to adequate food, adopted by the UN-Committee
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1999. The obligations of donor cover the
obligation to ‘do no harm’. The text of the “Voluntary Guidelines to support the progressive
realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security” (VG-RtF)
describes the obligations of donor countries in more details and contains already important
criteria how food aid should be organized and how it should be integrated into long term
rehabilitation and development objectives (Guideline 15.4). Guideline 15 is on international
food aid and Guideline 16 on natural and human-made disasters.

The VG-RtF were adopted in November 2004 unanimously in the FAO-Council. The VG
make clear that food aid must be based on a sound needs assessment and that it must be
targeted especially to food insecure and vulnerable groups. Food Aid must be demand driven.
“…donor states should provide assistance in a manner that takes into account food safety, the
importance of not disrupting local food production and the nutritional and dietary needs and
cultures of recipient populations.” The VG highlight that a clear exit strategy must exists and
that no dependency should be created. The distribution of food aid should be done without
discrimination towards any group or individual in a country. Guideline 16 widens the context
by highlighting that food aid delivery must respect the standards of international humanitarian
law and that refugees and internally displaced persons should also have access at all times to
adequate food. It also highlights the need to have an adequate and functioning mechanism of
early warning in place in order to prevent or mitigate the effects of natural or human made
disasters.

7.      A new food aid regime must give binding guidelines for shaping the structure of
national decision making on food aid. This includes recommendations on the membership
of a national food aid or food security committee, including state and non-state stakeholders,
the UN and donors. The main task of such a committee would be to pool and analyse
available information, trigger alarm and make choices which instruments from the ‘toolbox’
(see 4. above) are effective and efficient to combat hunger. Recommendations beyond food
aid to address the underlying causes of hunger would inform decision makers of development
programmes and link them in a synergic way to the national food aid regime. The experience
of national food aid committees can feed back into the cyclical ‘renovation’ of the
international food aid regime and the surrounding future food security architecture.


In conclusion: The new food aid regime should be in line with other recent international
agreements including the Voluntary Guidelines on the Implementation of the Right to
Adequate Food adopted by the FAO members, the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, the
Good Humanitarian Donorship Principles and the SPHERE Standards. It should be an organic
part of a wider food security architecture that includes agriculture, rural development and
poverty alleviation programmes.

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posted:8/8/2011
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