Ahead of the Curve: Landmark Forum Charts Directions for Food Security

ADB, FAO, and IFAD jointly convened an Investment Forum on Food Security in Asia and the Pacific on 7-9 July 2010 at ADB's headquarters in Manila. The first of its kind in the region, the Forum showcased Asia and the Pacific region as an attractive hub for increased investments in food security.

"E nga rangatira..."

Native words of greeting denoting unified leadership set the tone for a pioneering conference on food security that brought together policymakers, development experts, private firms, and civil society organizations in common purpose last 7-9 July 2010 at the ADB headquarters in Manila.

"The literal meaning of the Maori word for leader, Rangatira, is 'to weave people together.' That, I am sure, is the ambition of (this) gathering," noted James Bolger, chair of the International Advisory Board of the World Agricultural Forum and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, in a keynote address that underscored the importance of "innovative partnerships" in battling widespread hunger.

Bannering the theme "Food for All," the Investment Forum for Food Security for Asia and the Pacific is the first of its kind in the region.

It was jointly organized by the Asian Development Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to showcase the region as an attractive hub for increased investments in food security.

The Forum, attended by 400 delegates from 25 countries, sought to share innovations and good practices through multi-pronged approaches for achieving food and nutrition security and to promote collaboration and partnership frameworks in this urgent area of concern.

The three-day conference culminated in the signing of the Asia and the Pacific Regional Food Security Partnership Framework. The document forges a three-year partnership among ADB, FAO and IFAD to address specific food security issues in the region. The Forum itself is the first project under ADB's Operational Plan for Sustainable Food Security in Asia and the Pacific, adopted in December 2009.

Confronting the bigger question

"While I absolutely agree that it is essential to provide food to the hungry, we will only feed the world if we answer the bigger question, 'why the poor have no food.' We must insist that policy makers keep that question in the forefront of any debate on alleviating hunger," noted Bolger in his keynote speech.

"It is a time for new thinking as yesterday's thinking will not solve tomorrow's problems," he urged. "My argument is that the world must set the economic sails differently if we are to achieve sustainable solutions."

To produce food for all, Bolger called for a "new paradigm" that discards the concept of globalization being driven by a few big players and instead recognizes the needs of an integrated world community.

"Within the paradigm, the most important partnership is that between public policy and the needs of the people." He said this would also include an "essential partnership" between water, land, science, finance, and people.

The heads of the three co-host organizations drove home a common message in their opening remarks—the need to boost investments in agriculture to address food insecurity in the region.

"Contrary to what many people may think, the recent food crisis was not the result of grain shortages. It was caused by a complex range of factors that included protectionist food policies and a long-standing neglect on the part of governments to provide incentives for the private sector to invest in agriculture," said ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda.

He urged the conference participants to "move out of our comfort zones and forge new partnerships, collaborative arrangements, and networks" to achieve sustainable food security.

FAO Director General Jacques Diouf, in a video broadcast, estimated that food production would need to double in the developing world by 2050 in order to feed the growing population.

"A production increase of this magnitude will require the developing world alone to invest over $200 billion per year in agriculture till 2050, of which almost $120 billion would have to be invested just in the Asia and the Pacific region," he pointed out.

IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze, also in a video address, batted for long-term growth in agricultural productivity, which he stressed is "imperative" for food security.

"Productivity growth expands supplies, reduces prices, and raises the incomes of smallholder farmers. At the same time, productivity growth ensures affordable and adequate food for poor women and men and disadvantaged groups," Nwanze said.

Marketplace of ideas and innovations

A "Marketplace" comprising 16 booths was organized back-to-back with the Forum. Private firms and civil society organizations exhibited innovative products and services they have adopted to increase efficiencies in food and agriculture value chains.

Conference sessions and interactive discussions, buttressed by brown bag seminars during breaks, addressed issues of productivity enhancement, financial services, connectivity improvements, natural resources management, innovations in climate resilience, government-private partnerships, and regional cooperation.

Also highlighting the landmark conference was a collective statement submitted by civil society organizations pressing for solutions away from "business as usual" approaches, which they said have marginalized and further displaced poor communities across the region.

They called for, among others, increased funding for food security programs that are "more inclusive" of smallholder agricultural and vulnerable groups, and allocating at least 10% of national government budgets and fixed land to agriculture.

In her closing remarks, Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, ADB Vice President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, summed up several key principles for collective work on "sustainable and inclusive food security":

  1. Focus on smallholders.
  2. Make food security initiatives multi-sector and multi-stakeholder.
  3. Forge novel partnerships.
  4. Foster country ownership for the partnerships to move forward.

"For ADB and our partners, we are determined to follow through this regional partnership with concrete actions," she affirmed.

Stressing that the Forum is but the beginning of further actions, Ms. Shaefer-Preuss also urged everyone to "work the talk."