How Europe should tackle the global food crisis

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

“The time has come for Europe to take the lead by introducing collective international action and regulation” to tackle the food crisis, argues French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier in the autumn edition of Europe’s World.

The rising cost of basic food and the hunger riots and social tensions that the world has experienced over the last year demonstrate that “food insecurity is an irrefutable reality of our century,” claims Barnier, warning that “900m people now suffer from chronic hunger, while destitution is leading to conflicts between peoples and countries”. 

As a consequence, agriculture should become “an international priority, with the poorest countries being helped to safeguard the security and independence of their own food supplies,” the author claims. 

To provide food security, the minister says the EU can begin “by applying the strength of an agricultural sector that has an essential role to play in supplying food to the world”. Indeed, given the reliability and sheer size of its farming output, Barnier argues that the EU “could and should play the role of regulator in global markets”. 

However, the French minister concedes that “Europe cannot build up its own agricultural sector to the detriment of the less fortunate”. On the contrary, he believes that the EU should “harmonise its policies with those of poorer nations so as to aid their development”.

Barnier believes emergency food assistance is “essential if the EU is to help prevent human tragedies,” but adds that “Europe’s clear focus must be on encouraging the development of local agriculture”. 

Indeed, this is the only “way to achieve greater food security around the world and thus reduce poverty,” he maintains. Furthermore, he argues that “it will make it possible to ensure that the high price of agricultural products today is transformed into an opportunity for farmers in the developing world”. 

To meet these goals, Barnier believes a “public policy response is essential”. Given the erratic nature of agricultural markets, he argues that “regulation is needed to soften the impact on poorer countries of volatile food prices”. 

On top of this, the author contends that “it would be unwise to rely on markets alone to enable the poorest countries to expand their economies in a world where productivity differentials can be as great as 1 to 1,000”. 

Barnier concludes that the time has come to “take up the tools of collective action and regulation to help deliver food security for the world [and] to make agriculture a new priority,” thus creating “growth with a more human face”. 

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