Lady on tractor with cell phone, Orchha (India)
photo via flickr hartjeff12
The G-20 summit currently taking place in Paris has focused primarily upon the subject of international food security. The group's goal is to help stabilize world food prices, especially in the poorer developing nations. Helping to achieve this goal through increasing the use of data collecting is possible because of today's current level of technological mass communication and cell phone use throughout the world. With five billion people in the world now owning cell phones, it seems that the time has come to coordinate existing global food security efforts, technology, and action from the ground level up.
photo via flickr hsingy
French President Sarkozy stated at the meeting, “Volatility is a plague on farmers and consumers. It also imperils agricultural productivity in the future. Which farmer can make large investments when he risks losing a third of his revenue the next year?”
The summit's ambition is that the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) can be developed as a key tool for making global food supply stocks transparent and quantitatively reliable. This would allow for proactive measures involving food reserves and preplanned responses to regional droughts.
The Agricultural Market Information System aims to improve supply chain efficiencies through information availability. (Also see FAMIS, Mobile Active.org, and Global Agricultural Geo-Monitoring Initiative (GAGI).) Wholesale price information helps rural markets function and increases the competitiveness of local traders. Uncertainty causes volatility. In theory, this would help prevent panic food speculation if world food stock and consumption numbers were instantly available to all. The idea is endorsed by the World Bank and United Nations.
China and India diplomats expressed concern about transparency threatening national security. Historically, Chinese food supply stock numbers have been difficult for the remainder of the world to access.
Zambia. 2005. Roadside Shop. Typical corrugated metal roadside "shop" found throughout Lusaka, and from which you can common consumables: snacks, drinks, cell phone minutes, coal.
photo via flickr Andreas Kollegger
Other subjects debated by the G-20 included export curbs, plans for increasing output production, regulation of financial markets for agricultural commodities, encouraging the elimination of subsidies for biofuels, and humanitarian food aid reserves in Africa and elsewhere.
Even as this G-20 meeting took place disparaging food speculation, World Bank President Robert Zoellick announced a new World Bank-backed instrument would make available up to $4 billion to help farmers in developing countries hedge the sales of their products as a tool to help them.
One of the problems that I see with this goal of transparency and data gathering, besides the obvious one of getting China and everyone on board, is funding. It is well known that developed nations lack in follow-through of promised humanitarian food aid. Also, the state of the developed nation's economies today is resulting in cut-backs. In the data area, this has already happened in energy statistics when the EIA announced a 14% budgetary reduction in April which cut back some energy data collecting, and I have worried that it will happen in USDA supply and demand gathering budgets, as well. Since G-20 countries account for 65% of all farmland and 77% of global grain output, G-20 reporting of food stocks is certainly important.
Individual nation food security issues are often a result of that nation's politics and currency problems, something difficult to control in a global effort to reduce food poverty. Think Egypt or North Korea. In addition, there are the well-known food waste, storage, and infrastructure components which are often lacking in the developing world. It is good that storage is being addressed in the "reserves" idea promoted by this meeting.
Critics of the meeting expressed concern for funding to adapt simple technologies such as terracing in poorer nations which help greatly to improve food production while others referred to it as "more rhetoric."
Note that the G-20 includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States.