H(a)LF a Loaf: Finally, in Madrid, a High-Level Forum considers Governance

Issue: The main (and much-needed) goal of the Madrid High-Level meeting is to reorganize the intergovernmental management of food and agriculture. At the last food crisis in 1974, OECD states savaged the UN’s unified system and carved it into four warring factions. In the midst of today's food crisis, the four remain underfunded, weakly governed and dismayingly competitive. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the biggest “loner” in the crowd, the World Food Program (WFP), are all either suffering from harsh external reviews or major program reorganization. Complicating the problem, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon’s High-Level Taskforce on the food crisis sees Madrid as an opportunity to segue into the secretariat for the G-8's proposed Global Partnership for Food and Agriculture. This top-down Partnership would substantially weaken G-77 policy influence in UN food fora by constructing an amorphous “compact” dominated by major governments, agribusiness, mega foundations, and multilateral food and financial institutions with just enough CSOs to mute protests against the presence of Monsanto and Gates. Also in Madrid, at the invitation of the Spanish premier, Jeffrey Sachs will be pedalling his proposal for a new vertical fund to draw down corporate and foundation money.

Fora: Madrid could be a surprisingly important step along the High-Level road to a new governance system. Till now, governments' response to the food crisis hasn’t lacked fora but it has lacked governance. The High Level Forum in Rome last June moved onto the HLF on Aid-Effectiveness in Ghana last September, then to the HL food portion of the General Assembly and back to FAO's High level ministerial conference in November. Any keen food-watchers who don’t have chronic nosebleeds by now will still have to soldier on to another High-Level session at FAO in November – accompanied, possibly, by a World Food summit involving Barack Obama and/or a still larger Madrid gathering next year. As the HLFs thunder on, the CGIAR is massively restructuring its 15 independent institutes into a single legal entity which will likely be headquartered in Rome. Meanwhile, IFAD is looking for a new president after a heartening 60% increase in funding and the WFP seems more enamoured with the World Bank than with its sister agencies in Rome.

Policy: The G-8's Global Partnership is bad governance and smacks of the desperate creation of the utterly-useless World Food Council in the 1974 food crisis. The WFC was finally euthanized in the early 90s. Instead of hastily cobbling together something new, Madrid should look at the four main agencies (FAO, CGIAR, IFAD, WFP) and get them working together. Trying to reorganize these institutions one by one is like trying to teach an elephant to dance one foot at a time. Before inventing a new organization, Madrid must make three decisions: (1) agree to an immediate meta-evaluation of the four organizations; (2) agree to coordinate the regular meetings of the four governing bodies to jointly review the meta-evaluation; and (3) agree to restructure the regular biennial FAO Regional Conferences to allow governments, the four agencies and other concerned parties – most especially, organizations of small farmers, fishers, livestock-keepers and indigenous peoples – to make proposals for the overhaul of the UN’s “failed estates.” To stimulate debate, the six charts in this brief report propose merging the CGIAR with FAO into a new Food and Agriculture Conference and bring IFAD and WFP along with the merged FAO/CGIAR together in a New Roman Forum for Food, Agriculture and Rural Development. We hope our draft proposal is sufficiently detailed and adequately incomplete to stir the ire of every interest group and launch a reorganization of our crippled infrastructure.


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