Existing and New Approaches to Food Security – A Contribution of German Development Policy

On December 11, 2012, we organized a conference on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in the Café Moscow in Berlin on all aspects of food security and nutrition.

The exciting speeches and animated discussions were broadcast worldwide via live stream and we would like to take this opportunity to thank all the busy Twitterers who joined the conversation.

We hope you all enjoyed the conference and perhaps event went away with a new insight or two.

It was a particular honour to have Kofi Annan give the key note at the conference – you can, of course, watch a video or read a transcript of his address here.

For those of you who could not participate in the live stream, we provide this brief overview of the topics covered at the conference for your reading pleasure:

Almost 30 percent of the global population suffers from under- or malnutrition – a disturbing fact with which Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel opened the conference. Disturbing it may be, but his words were very effective in transporting the gravity of the situation to guests and around 300 participants. The forecast increase in the global population to 9 billion by 2050 requires a long-term investment in agriculture; it cannot be just a brief development assistance fad. Food security and nutrition will therefore continue to be a key issue for German Development Cooperation in future.

Numerous international representatives from politics, the private sector, research and civil society joined former UN Secretary General, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) Kofi Annan, German Federal Minister for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Ilse Aigner and the Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development Gudrun Kopp at the conference.

Moderated by Dr Melinda Crane (Deutsche Welle TV), three panels worked to develop approaches aimed at improving food security and nutrition. The panels explored the following topics: 1) generating income – strengthening agriculture; 2) securing livelihoods and agricultural production bases and 3) combating price volatility.


The following thematically summarized recommendations were agreed at the conference:

Sustainably increasing productivity

Kofi Annan called for the "army of smallholder farmers to be mobilized". Across the board, panellists emphasised the importance of smallholder farming operations for food security and nutrition. According to Shenggen Fan from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), they are responsible for 80% of all food production. Any expansion of food production and more intensive cultivation would above all need to be socially and ecologically responsible, which could include the use of natural fertilizers, for example. Investment in research into new, sustainable technologies and cultivation methods is needed. In additional to intensifying agricultural production, participants also expressed support for reducing the huge amounts of food and water that are wasted. Currently around one third of the food produced in developing countries spoils before it can be consumed. This can be attributed to deficient harvesting and storage techniques, limited transportation options and the unsustainable cultivation of fields. Amir M. Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), expressed his conviction that development cooperation must bear responsibility for transmitting better knowledge.

Generating income

German Federal Minister for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Ilse Aigner emphasised that increased yield must go hand in hand with increases in value creation in rural areas. Carlos Seré from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) concurred, noting that agricultural products needed to be processed on location to economically energise rural areas beyond agriculture. As the birthplace of the cooperative system, Germany could lend its expertise to promote better organisation among smallholder farmers, according to Kah Walla, a business woman and politician from Cameroon. Farming organizations also needed strengthening, for only as a group would farmers be able to articulate their interests and produce beyond the level of mere subsistence. Paying fair prices for food over the long term was deemed necessary to ensure that agriculture was attractive to young people for its prospective income.

Women's empowerment

All three panels pointed to the key role women play in food security and nutrition. In many developing countries, women do the majority of farm labour while also caring for their children. In her closing statement, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development Gudrun Kopp called attention to the far-reaching consequences of malnutrition for children during the first 1,000 days of life. Kah Walla advocated involving women more in the strategic decision-making process to facilitate their access to education, agricultural know-how and new technologies. Additionally Dr Prabhu Pingali from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) spoke out in favour of reforms to reduce discrimination against women in accessing land titles.

Increase political coherence

Forum participants all agreed that greater coherence was needed in outlining and implementing development policy measures. Federal ministers Ilse Aigner and Dirk Niebel emphasised the new collaboration between the Development and Agriculture ministries. Both have been working at an EU level to do away with agricultural export subsidies. The two ministers concurred that food security and nutrition must take precedence over the production of biofuels. Kofi Annan also criticised the use of agricultural land to produce biofuels, pointing out that while these so-called cash crops may be more lucrative, they were increasing food shortages worldwide.

Involving the private sector, research and civil society

Politics, the private sector, research and civil society will need to interact more closely in future. Dr David Nabarro, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Food Security and Nutrition, called for a people-public-private partnership (PPPP) among civil society, the state and the private sector, noting that many developing countries suffered from a financing gap that the private sector could fill. Carlos Seré from the IFAD encouraged Germany to expand its research programmes on climate change and sustainable agriculture. The key role Germany plays in developing new approaches was repeatedly emphasised. Dr Friedrich Kitschelt, a division head at the BMZ, expressed his desire to see civil society more involved. He called on participants to circulate the BMZ's new agricultural concept, to read it critically and reflect ideas and suggestions back to the ministry.

Promoting and supporting good governance

Carlos Seré (IFAD) identified poor governance as the central problem that results in unproductive agriculture. He called upon governments to create attractive framework conditions to attract private capital and pointed to the need to link productive fields with infrastructure as part of increasing farmers' income. Kofi Annan demanded an end to land grabbing, a practice in which governments sell off land to foreign investors without involving or compensating the famers who are robbed of their livelihoods.

Kah Walla spoke in favour of institutionalising contract law and ownership structures. Some African nations have already requested support in establishing and implementing binding guidelines for selling land in Africa. The issue now at hand is strengthening and complying with international contract law. To date many African governments have invested too little in agriculture. Almost ten years ago, the African Union therefore developed the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAAPD) in which signatories agreed to invest at least 10% of their budgets in agriculture. The programme has only been implemented by a handful of countries so far, though these can boast of great success. Overall the governments of Africa need to finally comply with the agreement and donors should more vehemently demand good governance in their partner countries.

Limiting price volatility, ensuring legal security

Steep increases in food prices, particularly since 2008, have drawn the attention of the international community to the phenomenon of price volatility. For Prof Joachim von Braun from the Center for Development Research (ZEF), it is not the increase in the price of food, but rather the extreme volatility of price development that is the true cause for concern. Poor people in developing and emerging countries in particular suffer under extreme price fluctuations, whereas slower and steadier price increases ultimately benefit farmers. He posited the need for an international authority for food storage with the power to make decisions about keeping or offloading food reserves to have a stabilising effect on world market prices. He also suggested introducing a virtual food reserve for humanitarian disasters under the aegis of the UN World Food Programme, additionally noting that virtual stocks could also be an effective approach. Measures to limit price volatility needed to take regional and national phenomenon into account in addition to world market prices if they hoped to be effective. A cap on the commodity futures market was also conceivable, and national borders needed to be opened to allow emergency supplies to be delivered in the event of a disaster. Bärbel Dieckmann, President of Deutsche Welthungerhilfe (German World Hunger Assistance), spoke out in favour of the much discussed financial transaction tax.

The link between price volatility and biofuels was a hotly discussed and controversial issue. The production of bioethanol is currently being curbed in the USA. Ludwig Striewe (Alfred C. Toepfer International GmbH) expressed his wish for such flexible measures in European biofuel policy as well, arguing that strict biofuel admixture quotas needed to be lifted when demand for food increased. The third panel had some concrete suggestions for how to proceed: by regulating excessive volatility, increasing transparency and the availably of information – about prices in particular, lowering duties, creating stabilizing funds to prevent extreme price jumps, and strengthening social fall-back systems.

Increasing transparency, preventing collective action failure

Food producers depend on free access to information on prices, demand, existing import duties and trade barriers. Adequate central market information, such as about national stores and the food production and consumption levels of different countries, is not currently available. More statistics are desperately needed and those currently most often used, which are the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and often based on model calculations or random sampling due to information gaps, were deemed insufficient. The production and storage figures from Germany and other countries should be made available to the public. Prof Joachim von Braun and Ludwig Striewe suggested introducing a market-based regulation mechanism to create more market transparency and prevent a reoccurrence of the collective action failure from the food crisis in 2008.

At the beginning of 2012, Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel presented a 10-point program for agricultural development and food security and nutrition as an approach to dealing with the huge challenges discussed above. A task force will also be called into being at the BMZ and food security and nutrition anchored as an interdisciplinary issue. The next steps will be to initiate an annual dialogue with the German public on food security and nutrition, along with closer cooperation between the BMZ and AGRA.

More Videos and more Information are coming. Stay tuned.