French G20 Presidency Discusses Food Reserves at WFP

French Minister for Cooperation Henri De Raincourt and WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran discuss emergency food reserves during a high-level meeting of the French presidency of the G20 in Rome. Copyright: WFP/Giulio D'Adamo

WFP and the French G20 presidency hosted a high-level meeting in Rome on Monday to explore key issues in the fight against hunger, including the possibility of setting up emergency food reserves to ensure the world’s poor have access to food even during a major supply crisis.

ROME--WFP and the French G20 presidency hosted a high-level meeting in Rome on Monday to explore key issues in the fight against hunger, including the possibility of setting up emergency food reserves to ensure the world’s poor have access to food even during a major supply crisis.

France, which has made food and nutrition security key priorities in its G20 presidency,  sees emergency food reserves as one way to protect the most vulnerable populations from supply shocks such as the 2008 food price crisis. It has asked WFP to carry out a feasibility study on the issue.

“Food reserves, which we want to see carefully targeted to the most vulnerable populations and most fragile countries, should make it possible to respond to food emergencies and to make sure that, simply put, the situation doesn’t get any worse,” said French Minister for Cooperation Henri De Raincourt, during the meeting at WFP headquarters.

Pre-positioned stocks

The high-level consultation, attended by NGO leaders,  private sector partners, research institutes and top UN officials, discussed the role and rationale of an emergency food reserve system as a way of helping vulnerable nations better manage price volatility and respond faster to urgent food needs.

“The idea that is being worked on is to explore whether a cost-effective system of targeted, pre-positioned stocks can help ensure the poorest and most vulnerable have rapid access to sufficient supplies during shocks, ” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

Sheeran noted that WFP already helps several nations, including Ethiopia,  administer food reserves which served as “first line of defence” in times of crisis. She stressed that the food stocks envisaged were very small and were in no way intended to act as a price-control mechanism.

France would like to propose a model for food reserves to G20 partners at the summit planned to be held in Cannes in November this year.  The idea was also floated that G20 nations could launch a pilot project for emergency food reserves “to demonstrate their applicability.”

Many-pronged approach

Food reserves are just one of the approaches that France is exploring as it seeks to broker progress and partnerships in the fight against hunger during its one-year G20 presidency.  Other key issues include access to nutrition, safety nets and the access of smallholder farmers to markets.  Discussions were held on all of these subjects during the high-level meeting in Rome on Monday.

“Emergency food reserves fit into an overall approach…including early warning systems and mapping, support of smallholder agriculture, use of the most innovative tools of risk management and improving the nutritional situation of individuals and communities,” said Sujiro Seam, Deputy Director of Food Security and Economic Development at the French foreign  ministry.

Sheeran thanked the French G20 presidency for making food security a priority for its tenure, saying that the issues put up for discussion in Rome showed “that the G20 can do what it was set up to do: provide leadership on the critical issues that require unified global action.”