MPs on the International Development Committee are calling for concerted action to curb food wastage in the UK and for expansion of DFID’s bilateral nutrition programmes with a particular focus on pregnancy and early years, as part of wider efforts to improve global food security.
Launching a report on Global Food Security as world leaders assemble in London to attend an international nutrition summit hosted by the UK government, Sir Malcolm Bruce, chair of the International Development Committee warned,
"There is no room for complacency about food security over the coming decades if UK consumers are to enjoy stable supplies and reasonable food prices.
UK aid to help smallholders increase food production in the developing world is of direct benefit to UK consumers as rising world food prices will reduce living standards of hard-pressed UK consumers.
We have seen two notable ‘shocks’ or ‘spikes’ in global food prices over recent years, with price peaks in June 2008 and February 2011. These crises - driven by rising demand for food and by the impact of biofuels produced through agriculture - hurt many parts of the UK food industry and strongly undermined the global fight against hunger.
A number of tangible measures set out in our report could, if implemented, have a significant impact on global food security and directly benefit UK consumers.
There is, for example, considerable scope for the Government to launch a national consumer campaign to reduce domestic food waste. Alongside this the Government should also set national targets to curb food waste within the UK food production and retail sectors, with clear sanctions for companies that fail to meet these targets.
With the UK never more than a few days away from a significant food shortage, UK consumers should also be encouraged over time to reduce how often they eat meat. Meanwhile, as a nation we should place a stronger focus on more sustainable extensive systems of meat production such as pasture-fed cattle, rather than on highly intensive grain-fed livestock units."
With respect to biofuels, MPs acknowledge that agriculturally-produced biofuels are having a major detrimental impact on global food security by driving higher and more volatile food prices. They confirm that EU targets requiring 10 per cent of transport energy to be drawn from renewable sources by 2020 are likely to cause dramatic food price increases. Responding to this the Committee calls on the UK government to revise its domestic Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) to specifically exclude agriculturally-produced biofuels and calls on the UK ministers to push for similar reform of the EU target.
Commenting on this Sir Malcolm Bruce added, "Biofuel crops not only displace food crops but are in some cases providing energy sources that are potentially more damaging to the environment than fossil fuels. So while we recognise that refining the RFTO will make it harder for the UK to meet current EU obligations, the relevant target does not kick in until 2020 so there is nothing to stop the UK from revising the RTFO now to exclude agriculturally-produced biofuels."
Looking beyond the UK to the impact of rising world population (forecast to rise from 7.1 billion today to 9.3 billion by 2050) the committee praises DFID’s significant efforts to meet the considerable unmet need for contraception in many developing nations and urges the UK government to maintain a keen focus on women’s reproductive rights within its development assistance programmes.
MPs also flag the longer term barriers to development posed by systematic undernutrition**. In particular, the Committee questions why DFID works bilaterally in 29 countries but only runs nutrition programmes in 16 of these and calls on DFID to expand that coverage, with a particular focus on nutrition during pregnancy and early years.
On a related theme DFID is asked to explain why it does not fund social protection programmes in 14 out of 29 countries where it has a bilateral programme even though it is known that social protection plays a vital role in protecting the food security of the poorest when food price shocks occur.
MPs emphasise that export controls have only exacerbated food price volatility. They welcome the gains made through the Agricultural Market Information System (where since 2011 all participating countries provide monthly data on their food stocks) but call on the UK Government to conduct further research into how far the use of food stocks might help to reduce food price volatility.
The Committee expresses concern that large corporations are buying up large areas of land in many developing countries previously farmed by smallholders. MPs recommend that UK-domiciled corporations be required to be transparent about land deals, call for full implementation of the UN Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure***. Commenting on this Sir Malcolm said, "we challenge DFID to support additional projects to develop robust land registration systems, as it already does in Rwanda and plans to do in Ethiopia."
Lastly, MPs focus on the key role that smallholder farmers will play in feeding a growing global population and in reducing rural poverty. The committee calls on DFID to devote a greater proportion of its budget to supporting the development of agricultural extension services (funded from locally-generated revenue flows), particularly those targeted at women. MPs also urge DFID to devote more of its budget to supporting the formation of inclusive farmer organisations and co-operatives that can help smallholders engage with large corporations or wider markets for their agricultural products.
Commenting on these issues Sir Malcolm added, "Farm extension work went badly out of fashion decades ago in the aid sector, but should now be expanded within DFID’s programme. Smallholders and large commercial producers all need an enabling environment with adequate training, investment in roads, storage and irrigation infrastructure. They also need new skills and methods with which to improve the resilience of their cultivation systems in the face of climate change, a challenge already making it much more difficult for farmers in many communities to decide when to sow, cultivate or harvest their crops."