Behind the scenes in developing policy briefs

The members of the T20 Argentina Task Force on Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture met at IFPRI to discuss the progress of their work. Written by Sara Gustafson and Valeria Piñeiro.

A recent workshop held at IFPRI as part of the T20 Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture Task Force (Task Force 3) provided a behind-the-scenes look at how T20 members develop their recommendations.

The co-chairs of Task Force 3, Jikun Huang (Peking University), Eugenio Diaz Bonilla (IFPRI) and Martin Piñeiro (CARI), emphasized that global problems require collective action. The success of this collective action, in turn, depends in large part on consensus and buy-in among stakeholders. With this in mind, Task Force members convened the workshop with global development experts and policymakers in order to include a broader audience in the conversation about food security and sustainable agriculture.

The debate centered on a series of briefs that Task Force members have produced to address specific global food security challenges and to present innovative proposals for action. Prior to the presentation of these briefs to the G20 leaders in September, Task Force leaders wanted to ensure that their ideas and proposals truly meet global needs, as understood by this wider range of actors.

The discussions highlighted the complex nature of the challenges facing both developed and developing countries with regard to food security and nutrition, agricultural investments, and sustainability of food systems, as well as the divergent opinions regarding how best to address these challenges.

The food security-climate change nexus, the subject of Brief 1, formed one critical topic of debate, with participants discussing how to increase global food production without causing environmental damage. The brief’s authors have proposed several recommendations to reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint through technology and trade. A key focus was on improved practices to redress soil erosion and enhance the capacity of soils to sequester carbon emissions. The Brief further recommends the G20 launches a global initiative to encourage the use of knowledge- and information-based technologies to minimize greenhouse gas emissions.

Workshop participants highlighted some of the challenges facing these proposals, including affordability and accessibility. Maximo Torero of the World Bank and Rob Vos of IFPRI both emphasized the need to provide appropriate incentives to help farmers adopt new, climate-smart technologies, as well as the need to identify which technologies producers truly need. Eugenia Saini of FONTAGRO suggested to propose a global fund for agricultural research and development that would also provide support to producers who lack means to adopt new technologies.

In brief 5, lead author Diaz-Bonilla focused on the financing of a transition toward sustainable food systems. Participants specifically discussed how best to stimulate investment in infrastructure. The brief pointed out that while studies have shown projects such as rehabilitation of degraded land and small irrigation services to be profitable, investment finance for these projects remains scarce in practice worldwide. Similarly, while the world’s financial system has ample liquidity, markets and governments alike are not setting high priority on financing investments in socially and environmentally sustainable food production.

Geeta Sethi of the World Bank emphasized this point, saying, “There is liquidity, but we haven’t figured out what and how to scale up in terms of infrastructure projects. We also need find ways to accommodate the differences in investors’ risk appetite.”

One obstacle is a lack of capacity to formulate viable project proposals for investments in sustainable agriculture. In order to better link financiers and producers, the brief’s authors proposed the creation of a project-preparation facility to develop a pipeline of projects relating to climate-smart agricultural practices. The authors also recommended that countries increase funding for agricultural R&D.

The need for greater policy coherence and coordination, at both the national and the multilateral level, formed a theme in the discussion of several briefs. Brief 2, for instance, sketches the current global trade scenario, in which five countries (China, Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Russia) are responsible for about 40% of net food imports and seven countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Thailand and USA) account for about 55% of total net food exports. With these major players having the potential to significantly impact global markets and with the failure of multilateral negotiations to reach a consensus on trade-related issues like export restrictions, the brief’s authors proposed the establishment of a special group of 13 major net food importing and net food exporting countries within the WTO in order to promote dialogue, the exchange of information, and possible agreements and commitments between themselves.

When discussing the need for the G20 to harmonize policies aimed at improving nutrition, including through food labeling and certification (brief 7), David Laborde of IFPRI also stressed the importance of making sure such measures are aligned with multilateral trade agreements. He suggested that it would be better for countries to reach agreement on how to ensure such alignment now, rather than bringing complaints to the WTO dispute resolution body later.

Marie Ruel of IFPRI echoed that better coordination across different domains of food and nutrition policies is essential in order to reverse the ongoing trend of the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity. She pointed out, for instance, that early interventions to prevent undernourishment among infants and children should be part of interventions to redress obesity, as persons that suffered malnutrition at early age are more predisposed to become obese.

To underpin harmonized and more comprehensive nutrition policies, the authors of brief 7 recommend increased efforts to generate better data on nutrition, specifically data to identify dietary patterns across different household groups and data to permit linking household consumption more directly with nutrition outcomes.

While arguably these are sensible proposals, participants also pointed out that most countries have already committed to greater policy coherence for better nutrition outcomes, through such initiatives as the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition. The brief would need to present both what has already been done and provide a clear roadmap for future additional efforts.

The authors of briefs 3 and 4 also emphasized the need for harmonized perspective of food systems and food loss and waste, respectively. The authors of brief 4 called for the creation of a common measurement methodology for food loss and waste across value chains. During the discussion, Piñeiro called for a similar definition of food systems to be included in brief 3.

In brief 6, the authors addressed soil health, another key priority of the Argentina G20 presidency, through the lens of the fertilizer market. In order to increase sustainable fertilizer, use and increase land productivity around the world, the brief proposes the creation of a series of soil maps, which will constitute a global public good. These maps would help track soil classes and soil properties to help farmers in developing countries determine how much and which types of fertilizers to use.

The brief also discusses the need to increase competition within the fertilizer industry. Currently, fertilizer production remains extremely concentrated within just a handful of countries. Increased competition would reduce fertilizer prices, making an important input more affordable for developing country farmers. Eugenio Diaz-Bonilla of IFPRI again brought up the importance of multilateral cooperation on this goal, suggesting, “If we want to increase competition for the fertilizer markets globally, we may want to look at the WTO and see what can be done under that umbrella.”

In addition to the suggestions regarding the original seven briefs, the workshop participants identified the need for an eighth brief covering the overarching themes of agricultural productivity and agricultural research and development.

The workshop represented an important step in the T20 process, during which stakeholders had the opportunity to present ideas and suggestions for prioritized action. As for the next step in the process, T20 members will analyze and integrate the feedback they received during the workshop to ensure that the concerns of all stakeholders are reflected in the briefs’ proposals.

By Sara Gustafson, Communications Specialist, and Valeria Piñeiro, Senior Research Coordinator in IFPRI’s Markets, Trade and Institutions Division.