October 02, 2009

Weekly News Roundup: Food Security - the Other Headline

This week some of the most prominent natural security news focused on the much-anticipated release of climate legislation by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA). However the implications of the climate bill have been examined at length by likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and even across-the-pond  at the BBC. Instead, this week’s news roundup covers the other big natural security theme: food security. Both the G20 and the U.S. State Department announced new initiatives to combat food insecurity worldwide, and the Food Policy Research Institute released its new report that explores the link between food insecurity and climate change.

One of the outcomes of last week’s G20 conference in Pittsburgh was a recommendation to the World Bank to set up an agricultural trust fund benefitting developing countries. The group did not set a timeline for creating the fund, so progress will be hard to track. Interestingly, the G20’s initiative was framed as a humanitarian and development issue, without much reference to broader international security.

Over at the United Nations, officials raised similar concerns about the impact of food prices on development, while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made more explicit natural security arguments about food. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued generic statements about food security—noting that a task force he setup “links development, trade and humanitarian action”—but Secretary Clinton emphasized the “security” part of food security. She stated that “food security is not just about food. But it is all about security: economic security, environmental security, even national security.” She noted the instability brought about by food riots in 2008, which were sparked by high food prices all over the world, from South Asia to the Caribbean. She also asked Congress to fund the new State Department initiative (pdf) on food security, which is being marketed not just by Secretary Clinton at the United Nations but also by other State Department representatives in other fora.

These initiatives are not without critics, however. Lester Brown, a prominent environmentalist and influential thinker, argues that the G20 nations should concentrate on stabilizing population growth and combating climate change, since both these factors will greatly influence food security in the future.

There is much to admire in the statements made by the G20 and the U.N. Secretary General. Food security is important foremost because it is a moral good to feed as many people as possible. But Secretary Clinton also seems to understand that the consequences of insecure food supplies can have adverse effects on national security. For example, wealthier countries with few land resources have taken to leasing land for food production from less developed countries, which exacerbates tensions in the latter. Security implications like these should not be ignored, and indeed, such concerns have been attracting more media attention lately. This is a great development. The Natural Security team will continue to analyze the G20 and State Department food security initiatives as they develop and gain funding (and if they are forgotten in six months, that’s worth noting too). For now, though, we should just remember not to take our breakfast for granted.