New Momentum for Food Security

Letter from Carin Norberg, 9 June 2008

Dear Reader,
Last week's summit in Rome on the soaring food prices, convened by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), was a most welcome refocusing on the role of agriculture in the world economy in general and in the development of African economies in particular.

The conference made room for many different and competing views. This was also reflected in the NGO Forum in which I participated. Under the chairmanship of Oxfam's Barbara Stocking the participants from as different constituencies as the European Farmers and La Via Campesina argued for their core issues which spanned from the right to food to the pros and cons of biofuels to food security, impact of climate change and child nutrition.

In my view the conference has created a totally new momentum. It is now up to governments and organisations to seize the opportunity. As one of the participants representing Eastern Africa Farmers Federation said "We should use this opportunity to produce food at reasonable prices... we need to get governments to support agriculture production".

Where there seemed to be a consensus, at least at NGO level, was around the pivotal role played by smallholder farmers. It is still uncertain if the conference will succeed in mobilising more funds for agriculture production, at least in the short term. But both the consumer concerns for high food prices and the need for more investment in agriculture were repeated again and again during these three days in June.

The need for more investments in agriculture research is now recognised as crucial. In February 2008 the Nordic Africa Institute together with NORAD, Sida, IFAD and the World Bank organised a conference in Oslo to discuss the implications for Nordic Aid Agencies of the World Development Report 2008, Agriculture for Development. In the wake of this event a new research programme was born focussing on Energy, Food and Livelihood in African Bio fuel Expansion during Climate Change.

With the Nordic Africa Institute as host it will involve five African universities, two Norwegian universities, the African Studies Centre in Oxford, one Brazilian university, and the Stockholm Environment Institute. The programme spans over five years and will result in new knowledge being generated, policy directed research and capacity strengthening, including funding and support for PhD students.

Carin Norberg
Director of the Nordic Africa Institute

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