July 21, 2008

Existing global policy making has undermined food security in Cambodia and Haiti

Free market structural adjustment strategies forced on Cambodia and Haiti are in the news as the World Trade Organisation meets and discussion of agricultural subsidies and protectionism are taking place. Indian farmers staged a protest last week for agriculture to be excluded from the WTO agreement. See:

Before anything else, the fact that many in Cambodia, Haiti and India have slipped into food insecurity as a result of globalization of food markets and, to greater or lesser degrees, the policies pursued by WTO should dispel one criticism of the Simultaneous Policy campaign. There is nothing outlandish about suggesting there should be global policies to address global problems. Global policies are already in existence and are being developed at meetings such as that of WTO.

What the Simultaneous Policy strategy provides is transparency and the involvement of those who are affected, some to the point of starving to death, by such policies.

In an article on current WTO discussions in The Observer, Heather Stewart, recalls the structural adjustment policies forced on Haiti by the World Bank and IMF. Import tarifs on rice were cut from 50% to 3%. See:

Indigneous farmers could not compete with imported rice and so stopped farming, resulting in lost production and lost income. The result : "In a recent report, Christian Aid found that Haiti has gone from being self-sufficient in food to using 80 per cent of its export earnings to pay for food imports. Rice production has fallen by almost half, and three-quarters of the rice consumed comes from the US."

With food prices soaring on world markets, people have been taking to the streets to protest that they cannot feed their families.

Cambodia also had policies forced upon it by the World Bank and IMF. Again it was capable of feeding its population. Cambodia still produces more rice than it needs, but it has opened its borders and exports much of the rice to Vietnam and Thailand, where it is processed and sold back. Now slotted into the world market, rice prices have increased three-fold in two years, as Alex Renton explains, also in The Observer.

It is surely a cruel shock of the reality of free trade. Children are being taken out of school by parents who need their help to bring in enough money to buy enough rice and other food to survive.

If Cambodian rice processing had been modernised then the value-added part of the process would have remained in country. But, Alex Renton, writes:

---extract from Observer article
"Mr Yang [of the influential farmers' assistance and education organisation Cedac] moans that, despite all the investment put into the country by the World Bank and other international institutions, no one thought to build up the rice-processing industry, or even increase storage capacity. 'I don't understand why we can't invest in these facilities: it makes profit for the farmers, for the country and provides jobs.'

The truth of course is that, as their ideology dictates, the expert western economists prevented the Cambodian government from making such public investments. These things should be left to the private sector and free trade, they said. The problem is, though, that these mechanisms seem to have left Cambodia in the lurch where it matters most - providing the security of adequate, affordable food for its people.

---extract ends

These cases show a lack of joined-up thinking on food security. I wrote recently of how existing human rights norms can be used to argue that international organisations such as the World Bank and IMF should ensure they do not undermine the right to food, as covered extensively in the book 'Global Obligations for the Right to Food', available via this blog. See:


In their chapter in this book on 'International Legal Dimensions of the Right to Food', Federica Donati and Margret Vidar, address International Financial Insitutions specifically in one section. They state, in part:

---extract from 'Global Obligations for the Right to Food'

Some studies claim that impoverished countries still face an unacceptably high and rising number of conditions in order to gain access to World Bank and IMF development finance. On average, poor countries face as many as sixty-seven conditions per World Bank loan. Many of the conditions relate to privatization reforms. It could be argued that this is not in line with the essential role of international cooperation in the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to food as provided for by the ICESCR (International Convention of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) and interpreted by the CESCR (Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).

General Comment 2 [of the Committee] holds that even when structural adjustment programes are unavoidable and when they entail austerity measures that affect economic opportunities and social entitlements, endeavors to protect the most basic economic, social and cultural rights become more, rather than less, urgent. In this regard the CESCR made it clear that the relevant United Nations agencies should make a particular effort to ensure that such protection is, to the maximum extent possible, built into programs and policies designed to promote structural adjustment. The General Assembly resolution discussed above [see full text] also singles out the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in its call on International Governmental Organisations to respect and support the realization of the right to food.

---extract ends

This book and the arguments it presents, are part of the effort to encourage broader respect for existing human rights norms, including by International Governmental Organisations.

Within discussion of the policy content of the Simultaneous Policy, there are already proposals for reforming international financial institutions. It may well be relevant to include within the terms of reference of the reformed institutions a requirement to act in accordance with human rights norms.

1 comment:

Prijent Shrestha said...

India said the proposal on 'anti-concentration' is a warning on the use of flexibility that defeats "the very underlying principle of flexibilities"