- Published on Thursday, 09 October 2008 21:16
Back Ground Document from the International Planning Committee on Food Security (IPC)
The reform of FAO seeks to fundamentally modify the mandate and nature of this United Nations institution. The real question is: who will gain from
this? To have an idea of the conflict which exists between the governments of the member states of FAO over implementation of the contents of the
external evaluation of FAO (see IEE-http://www.fao.org/pbe/pbee/en/219/index.html), we have to start by remembering some of the critical issues that have emerged over the past year.
The current financial crisis, just like the “food crisis”, shows without a doubt that it is necessary to have global governance spaces where measures
to respond to the disasters that result from the impact of a quarter century of structual adjustment policies and liberalisation of markets -
including agricultural markets - can be elaborated and imposed. This need is also justified - not by sentiments of solidarity - but by the real
danger of urban revolts that have been provoked and can continue to be provoked by the crisis and which threaten dominant powers.
The FAO High Level Conference of June 2008 confirmed this need but proved itself incapable of providing any substantial indication of what and how
to respond. This was manifested by the initiative of the Secretary of the United Nations who (in an effort to save his image) put in place a
technical task force composed of a mix of all experts, while also mixing the responsibilities of the different institutions of the
inter-governmental system: several UN agencies like FAO and IFAD, but also the Bretton Woods insitutions and even the WTO.
Even in its weakened state, FAO confirmed its role as a “central player” whether because of objective facts (its capacity, knowledge, regional
network, etc.) as much as for the few initiatives that the FAO Secretariat has managed to take to break its own isolation. The discussion of
immediate initiatives to be taken to confront the crisis – all of which were based on financing emergency responses – demonstrated the weakness of
developing countries (who are the first and most important victims of soaring cereal and input prices). These countries presented themselves
with hands outstretched seeking money to avoid popular riots back home, thus favouring the domination of an extremely small group of donor
countries among whom, as usual, we find the EU and the USA. It's sufficient to read the final declaration of the High Level Conference to
have confirmation of this view.
As a result of these developments, the discussion for the moment is no longer the centrality or survival of FAO as an institution: the real
battle ground has become the question of who will dominate FAO in the years to come and what structure FAO will take in order to enable certain
countries to control global food and agriculture policies by offering them easy and sustainable means to do so.
This clash therefore is of particular concern to developing countries and especially social movements, in particular those that over the past 10
years have led the battles for food sovereignty.
Before putting forth urgent proposals to deal with this situation, we seek to underline the point that FAO embodies a real problem of democracy: one
country one vote....or one dollar one vote?
The formal note addressed to the Director General of FAO by Canada, Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and
Germany on April 4, 2006 in which they reminded him that as “principle donor countries” they “strongly recommend” postponing the reform of the
FAO (reference to the formal note). This clarifies the will of the donor countries to take control of FAO.
These countries maintain that FAO should only concern itself with international rules (i.e. it should have a normative role on food
standards) and not with field programmes to combat hunger and poverty.
This position radically changes the founding mission of FAO.
Furthermore, the donor countries want to totally change the democratic rules of decision-making in FAO by taking decision-making power from its
governing bodies (the Conference and the Council of FAO where all member states are represented and have one vote each) and giving it to a “club of
donor countries”. They attempt to achieve this through the same mechanism by which – to this day – they have tried to control the FAO budget:
reducing their contributions to the Regular Programme (how this part of the FAO budget is spent is decided by democratic vote of all member
states), and increasing contributions to the Trust Fund in which each donor country contributes funds to finance specifically the activities and
countries that interest it. This would lead to the same result as the mechanism of strong conditionality which exists at the World Bank and the
UN Security Council.
In effect the mechanisms for FAO reform (of its structures) put forth during discussions among member states (IEE Follow-up and Friends of the
Chair http://www.fao.org/pbe/pbee/en/357/index.html) effectively reform its fundamental mission which was (until now) “...to combat hunger and
poverty through improving conditions of ecnomic and social life of peasants and the poorest of the rural population...” This bears witness to
the increasing supremacy of a group of donor countries who are seeking instruments to govern the key sectors of the planet (food, energy) since
they have found that neither pre-emptive wars nor the power of the market are capable of imposing a global order under the dying domination of
neoliberal logic. The reform of the United Nations proceeds, building the means to strengthen the domination of the Secretary General and its
subordination to the Security Council can be reformed.
Three main areas of activity of the Secretary General will assure his operationality: development aid (through UNDP which does not have
democratic governing bodies), humanitarian interventions (applied to various emergencies, including both structural and long-term ones) and the
environment (yet to be decided). “Technical” institutions like the IMF and the World Bank that possess (according to some of the documents of some of
the donor countries) an effective “comparative advantage” in giving assistance to governments in order to establish their development
policies, remain confirmed in their current state. So we see once again the market as the exclusive reference and structural adjustment as the
basis of interventions. Global politicies are thus in the hands of a small number of dominant countries and their elites and the transnational
companies they protect.
According to this vision of FAO, the institution will be reduced to a technical instrument which “does the normative work in relation to the
security and trade of food” (see the official documents of the European Union), or else reduced to a research institute that “provides figures”
(see the intervention of the US delegation in different meetings). It will no longer have field activities in developing countries nor will it have
support programmes for poor farmers or support the initiatives of local or national social organisations. She will not be able to support for example
those countries that want to convert their agriculture to an agroecological model or that want an agrarian reform along the lines of
the strategies agreed by governments at the conference of Porto Alegre (the 2006 International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural
Development – ICARRD). And finally FAO will no longer be capable of giving technical assistance to member countries to elaborate their own
agriculture and food policies.
Development programmes in developing countries will be controlled exclusively by bilateral cooperation and by specialised agencies (this is
reminiscent of the old institutes for the colonies) that will apply with determination the logic of “aid for trade” (that is, aid aimed at
developing trade) where they will be capable of imposing strong conditionalities on countries while keeping close and friendly ties with
local dominant elites. And we start seeing already the instructions of these agencies for “development” of poor agriculture: food aid, prevention
of imposing limits on the liberalisation of markets, “contract farming” i.e. contracts to totally integrate raw agricultural materials with
international hypermarkets or with transformation industries (the idea is that these raw materials should return to costing next to nothing), food
insecurity and dependence, concentration, exodus from rural areas and slave labour. And again, this time with the support of philanthropic
capitalism and its green revolution for Africa, we see the relaunching of chemical inputs and biotechnology – as if the past 40 years of the first
green revolution have taught us nothing!
With the birth of the World Trade Organisation, the dominant countries and the elites that control exports in developing countries were convinced
(perhaps they still are) that acceptance of neoliberal logic would spread rapidly throughout the planet in a new management of the international
economic markets which would have reinforced their control on the global government of the planet.
Today, the reality is very different – as the current financial crisis shows – and one cannot hide the fact that liberal policies on agriculture
and food clash with a global resistance from peasants and that now goes much further than poor peasants in the south. Bilateral or regional free
trade agreements are still unable to impose themselves against the resistance that confronts them in all continents (for instance the
difficulties the EU has had in imposing Economic Partnership Agreements on African countries), an opposition which has grown from social movements to
the governments. The hard reactions of the dominant model of agriculture and development risks creating large problems even for local governments.
From Cameroon to Korea, from Colombia to Senegal, from Egypt to Indonesia to China.
The food crisis and the financial crisis have confirmed that the market is not capable of governing the world, and that, for the moment, does not
seem to have the necessary power (if that power is not the power of military weapons) to impose itself. The role of national states returns in
force. So we return to old methods of multilateral politics as a means of sharing the domination of the planet, for example, on issues related to
the global governance of food and agriculture policies through a “reformed” FAO.
A call to IPC to moblise itself.
The informaiton we currently have at hand shows us that we are facing a profound and effective revision of the mandate of FAO
The final document which will be presented to governments at the next special session of the FAO Conference (35th extraordinary session, Rome,
18-22 November 2008) is almost in its final draft form. In this document you will find the hard line of the donor countries who – relying on
financial blackmail– are trying to remove all possibilities for FAO to play a role in defining global food and agriculture policies (as per its
original mandate), while cancelling/deleting, for example all reference to the priority objective to “right to food” and equally serious, by
cancelling the function of an “agency for rural and agricultural development”. In other words, the instrument of the UN that – with the
democratic participation of so-called “beneficiary countries” - defines and implements on the ground rural and agricultural development policies.
Today we must mobilise ourselves to fight this project which takes away the social movements that fight for food sovereignty – but also the
governments of developing countries – from an influential global table of discussion and decision (which FAO may not be but which it should be), xxx
the battles of social organisations that represent “small food producers” (peasants, artisinal fisherfolk, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, etc.)
who are still the most shaken by these crisis (whether food, financial or environmental), but who are the same time the principal actors because it
is they who produce almost all of the food that nourishes us. Of all government strategies for food security and the reduction of poverty.
Their rapid mobilisation vis à vis their respective governments can and must make the difference.
The agribusiness agenda, built at the WTO, is moving to FAO and seeks to impose its priorities there. We can still stop them.
It seems necessary to address forcefully the levels from the Prime Minister to the Miniter of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Agriculture
of each country to demand them to:
- Reaffirm the funamental mission of FAO and its nature as a UN agency for rural and agricultural development
- Block all proposals already contained in the proposals of the “Follow upof IEE and the friends of the Chair (http://www.fao.org/pbe/pbee/fr/357/index.html) for the 35th extraordinarys ession of the FAO Conference that go against real democracy with a formal engagement to reistablish the supremacy of financing for the Regular Programme of FAO.
- Maintain FAO's role as a neutral space where governments elaborate their strategies to establish guidelines on global food and agriculture policies.
- Maintain FAO's role as a space where contributions of the social organisations, the movements and the actors of civil society are taken into account and elaborated in the definition of the approach to global food and agriculture policies.