|Civil society groups warned of constraints in engaging UN-backed forum on food security|
MANILA: Civil society organization should strengthen their regional platforms and ensure national discussions take place amid constraints in engaging a UN-backed forum on food security issues.
This was among the recommendations made by Asian civil society groups on how to engage the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), according to a paper published in Lok Niti, the journal of the Asian NGO Coalition.
The paper aims to guide civil society groups in their campaign to improve the consultation process and other aspects of governance relating to the CFS, an inter-governmental body that serves as a forum for discussion and coordination of policy and actions to promote food security. The body was set up in 1974 by the Food and Agriculture Organization following a global food crisis.
The paper said civil society groups should also recognize other venues they could participate in to influence dialogues on food security.
"How civil society organizations strategize and organize themselves at this juncture is critical. While they can be participants in the CFS, they should still be observers in the other committees.
"They should be very clear on the parameters of their engagement, and be aware of the realistic constraints they face given the structural issues of FAO and member governments," it said.
The paper said that at the global level there are a number of processes and mechanisms designed to boost agriculture and promote food security. As such, there should be tighter coherence for all these activities among UN and other international bodies, it added. "What is more important is that reforms and actions by these global institutions should cascade to the regional and national levels."
To engage CFS, civil society groups should also adopt strategies so that their perspectives can influence the CFS processes, which were mostly "mostly driven top-down -- from the global rather than from the national levels," according to the paper.
Civil society groups should also note that the mode of consultation is mainly through electronic discussion, it said. As such, it limits the participation of some stakeholders including those without or little access to the Internet or available information, it added.
Since food is not merely a technical issue about production and trade, but a highly political issue involving questions about resource distribution, access and control, there should be equal footing in the dialogue process, the paper said. "For food security to happen, reforms in power relations (e.g., agrarian reform, food sovereignty) must likewise be included in the topics for dialogue," it said.
The paper said when the CFS was set up in 1974, it lacked the authority to decide on and implement policy recommendations. As a result, CFS found itself ineffective in the face of a host of problems including commodity price spikes, poor harvests amid strong demand, and protectionist stance of some governments.
To ensure its relevance, CFS underwent a restructuring in 2009. "The new CFS aims for greater inclusiveness to encourage an exchange of views and experiences and draw expertise and knowledge from as wide a group of stakeholders as possible," the paper said.
While this may result in slower and cumbersome decision-making, the CFS hopes that this will in the long run benefit the system because it will promote better transparency and governance, the paper said.
Now, the structure allows input from different stakeholders at global, regional and national levels, according to the paper.
It said that one of the challenges facing CFS is working with various stakeholders of widely diverse views and agendas on food security and how it can sufficiently convey the discussions, debates and decisions taking place on the global level to country-level constituents. "Conversely, how can the engagement processes at regional and national levels be expanded and linked to the global processes of the committee?"
The paper said civil society groups' representation in the CFS is important. "But how can CSOs (civil society organizations) actually lobby national governments to support a global framework and implement agreements when some FAO country offices are not even aware of CFS processes?"
The paper said civil society groups believe that CFS, being one of the global forums on food security, "can be a viable venue that can make a difference if member-states and governments exercise political will in implementing reforms.
"But it remains to be seen how the benefits of its policy decisions can trickle down to the most vulnerable groups."
For more information, please contact the Asian NGO Coalition