Governance of Food Security

Committee on Food Security

The 2007/08 food crisis inspired global governance reforms. These aimed to achieve greater consistency between national food action plans and to eliminate duplication between aid agencies. For this purpose the Committee on Food Security (CFS) was modernised to ensure that the views of governments and civil society would combine with those of the three major UN food agencies – the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The CFS is supported by a High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE), a scientific body providing independent analysis for policy makers. Over the last decade this combination has published a sequence of guidelines and non-binding policy frameworks on controversial issues relating to food security. These include the volatility of commodity prices, the use of land for biofuels rather than food, and institutional investment in agriculture, otherwise described as land grabbing. Whilst these topics have subsided in the headlines, they remain as very real risk factors for the governance of global food security.

More recently, in preparation for the UN Food Systems Summit, convened by the UN Secretary-General in July 2021, the CFS has produced the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition. These Guidelines aim to assist governments with strategies to eradicate hunger and malnutrition.

A dedicated summit of this importance will expose tensions between policy makers, implementing organisations, and major donors from public and private sectors. The role of the CFS itself is under the microscope.

Global governance of food security – a former Chair of the CFS reflects on its work, from Green European Foundation

UN Food Agencies

Monitoring food security throughout the world is the core mandate of the FAO. It coordinates a flagship annual publication currently titled The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. For more logistical purposes, the FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System is a vital alert of serious hunger situations

This System is the primary source informing the WFP for its most important role, the distribution of food aid. In 2019 the agency supported 97 million people in 88 countries, requiring contributions of $8 billion. The World Food Programme was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020.

The US provides approximately 50% of all food aid but insists that most of its aid should be disbursed as surplus grain from US national stocks – and that the chain of delivery must be tied to US shippers and contractors. These conditions add time and expense to the delivery of food aid.

Most humanitarian experts advise that food should be purchased from surplus areas within the beneficiary country, not just on grounds of cost and delivery time but also to inject activity into the domestic economy.

Poorest countries threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic – a senior manager from the World Health Programme explains why the health crisis may become a food crisis
from South China Morning Post

World Trade Organization

In a less unequal world, poorer countries should be working more closely with the World Trade Organization (WTO) than the UN food agencies. A rules-based  international trade regime for agriculture should deliver fair access to global food markets for all countries but history has erected barriers to this ideal.

Determined to support the dominant profile of small family farms in the aftermath of the Second World War, the European Common Agricultural Policy and the US Farm Bill both provided generous subsidies and protective tariffs. These policies proved successful, generating colossal internal food surpluses.

Ambitions of the poorer countries of the modern world to copy this approach remain unfulfilled. In controlling  the WTO’s supposedly open market rules, the richer countries refused to unravel their own protectionist model.

This hypocrisy remains a fundamental barrier to effective food security strategies in developing countries. Domestic markets continue to be undercut by cheap food imports dumped by rich countries. As a result, almost all the 48 Least Developed Countries are dependent on food imports, vulnerable to unpredictable world prices. Sub-Saharan Africa paid $43 billion for its food imports in 2019, a sum sufficient to deliver universal coverage of electricity in that region.

World Bank and OECD estimates suggest that leading economies provide their agriculture producers over $600 billion of annual support. A further $150 billion each year is believed to be subsidising the unsustainable activities of fishing fleets of wealthy countries, denying vital protein resource for local coastal communities. Although these subsidies are expected to fall, the total is likely to remain astronomic compared with the UN’s estimate of the annual cost of eradicating hunger by 2030.


more Food Security briefings (updated March 2021)
Food Security Definition and Global Divide
Right to Food
Sustainable Development Goal for Food
Causes of Food Insecurity
Solutions to Food Insecurity
Source material and useful links