Sunday, 7 June 2009
Five takeaways from St Petersburg
The World Grain Forum wrapped up a short while ago, and most delegates are leaving St. Petersburg's Congress Hall for the airport. Our Russian hosts have promised a formal declaration summing up discussions over the last two days, but I wanted to share my own top five takeaways with you:
First, surplus grain producers in this part of the world like Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have significant potential to contribute more importantly to regional and global food security. If humanitarian aid organizations and other donor governments can provide a path toward greater participation for these new stakeholders, there are real opportunities here.
Second, this is a critical moment for action to combat hunger and strengthen food security. The global financial crisis and rising numbers of hungry and malnourished have really galvanized the world, and these concerns were front and center in every conference I attended. With the right focus and direction, there is a real chance for concerted action and real results.
Third, there is growing recognition that that access to food -- in addition to food production -- is critical to strengthening food security. Even at a Forum attended largely by agriculture ministers and grain traders, delegates came away with a growing appreciation that all the surplus production in the world is meaningless to the very poor if they can't get to it or can't afford it.
Fourth, the kinds of programs we use to provide access are critical. Many here spoke of the need for more initiatives like WFP's Purchase for Progress program to strengthen production by smallholder farmers in areas of food insecurity. They also highlighted the need for targeted and sustainable social safety net programs like school feeding.
Finally, I think we all came away with a better understanding of the important role well managed grain reserves and other mechanisms to store food for emergencies or between harvests can play in the context of a broader food security strategy. I heard a lot of concern about grand proposals for global reserve systems, but a real appreciation for the practical contribution of local cereal banks and national reserves to food security.
I'm signing off from St. Petersburg and will be back on a plane to London in the morning. I look forward to reading your thoughts and responses when I get back home.
Filed 17.12 (Rome time) 19.12 (St Petersburg time)
Sunday, 7 June 2009
Supply and demand
How do you connect supply and demand? It's a basic economic question, but one that has become important at the World Grain Forum over the last few hours.
Delegations from a number of countries that have not traditionally been significant food assistance donors have recently found themselves with large surpluses at a time of lower international prices. Last year, for example, Russian farmers went into the fields and gathered the largest grain harvest in this country's history.
Meanwhile, a growing number of people elsewhere are struggling with high local prices and falling incomes. The challenge is how to connect those in need with surpluses that may exist a world away. It's been heartening to see Russia devote part of their surplus for food assistance, and others are now looking at ways to follow their example.
Connecting supply and demand has emerged against the backdrop of a broader debate here about whether food aid helps or harms local markets in recipient countries. In an informal electronic poll taken at the Forum plenary yesterday evening, a third of the audience thought food aid actually harmed local markets, and that result was the subject of much discussion at meetings I participated in this morning.
The poll was surprising given all the progress the world has made in targeting food assistance and buliding local markets since the days when surplus grain from affluent countries was too often dumped in poor nations. But the topic is giving me and others here a chance to tell the story of our progress to a new audience and explain how WFP's powerful local and regional procurement, school feeding and other sustainable programs are boosting production ans stimulating markets in countries that receive food assistance.
I'm running to afternoon meetings now, but more later today.....
Filed 11.42 (Rome time) 13.42 (St Petersburg time)
Saturday, 6 June 2009
"Seize the day"
The World Grain Forum kicked off in St. Petersburg late today. It's a day most Russians are celebrating as the 200th birthday of Alexander Pushkin. A renowned poet and writer, Pushkin is surely one of the most cherished figures in Russian history.
Pushkin was on my mind as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was giving the Forum's opening keynote before an audience of 1,400 from some 40 countries. Pushkin famously wrote that you should never leave for dinner what you can have for lunch. It was his way of saying "seize the day" and "there's no time like the present".
It was with that same sense of urgency that President Medvedev called on delegates to overcome the challenges of hunger and poverty. It is unacceptable, he said, that there are some one billion people around the world without enough to eat -- people who struggle just for one meal a day, much less consider what to eat for lunch or dinner.
Medvedev laid out the challenge and called us all to action. I'm looking forward to working with others here on practical solutions and concrete results.
Filed 14.28 (Rome time) 16.28 (St Petersburg time)
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