Around the world conditions for farming production vary greatly. Thus according to the World Bank, 65 countries do not possess enough arable land to feed their population, even under the most favourable circumstances. The effects of climate change and the rapid growth in the world’s population are putting an added strain on resources which are unevenly distributed and in short supply. How can trade balance this situation? And how must it take place in order to ensure food security, diversity and a sustainable supply of food? These were the key topics at the 12th Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) at the International Green Week Berlin 2020. From 16 to 18 January around 2,000 participants representing politics, business, research and society accepted the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture’s invitation to attend. They took part in 16 panel discussions, found out about new products and services at the GFFA Innovation Exchange and, together with researchers, joined in with the excitement at the Science Slam. The slogan of the event was ’Food for everyone – diverse, safe and sustainable’.
Agricultural policy dialogue in a global context
“Over the past 12 years the GFFA has established itself as the place for a global agricultural policy dialogue“, said Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture Uwe Feiler, opening the three-day conference. In that context, he mentioned the International Digital Council for Food and Agriculture, which the World Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had announced in Berlin. The presentation of the UN organisation’s concept was in response to a request by the agriculture ministers of 74 nations following last year’s GFFA. “That is good proof that the conference works”, said a delighted Feller.
The State Secretary of the Berlin Senate Department of Consumer Protection and Anti-discrimination Margit Gottstein welcomed the fact that more and more companies were supporting responsible supply chains and taking aspects such as social standards, environmental and climate protection into account. The Berlin Senate had also taken a decision to offer a wide range of regional products in public catering facilities as of 2021– at least 50 per cent would meet organic food standards. Gottstein also stressed that consumers were able to influence trade flows with their buying decisions. “We all bear a responsibility”, the state secretary said.
This view was echoed by Jan Bock, the managing director of Lidl Germany. His company, according to him Europe’s largest discount store and the world’s fourth largest, supported non bio-engineered soya farming in Brazil in order to ensure that the livestock products his customers purchased were free from genetically manipulated animal feed. However, not every consumer desire could be fulfilled in the shops, he said. Last year, for instance, Lidl Germany had planned to sell only fair trade bananas. “However, customers were unwilling to pay the extra ten cents per kilo.” The company would have to continue putting regular bananas on its shelves, he said.
Focus on sustainable development
In 2015 the United Nations agreed on the Agenda 2030, which formulated 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). The joint high-level panel of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) discussed how trade could contribute to reaching SDG2 – a world without hunger and malnutrition. Once again, the global exchange of goods showed itself to be a double-edge sword.
“We have to import 95 per cent of our foodstuffs“, said Zaha Waheed, the minister of food and fisheries of the Maldives. The population of this island nation was only able to survive the 2004 tsunami with the help of the UN World Food Programme (WFP). Fishing ensured that people had a livelihood. Fish products accounted for one-fifth of the population’s protein intake, and also served the export market. EU tariffs on imports were at 28 per cent. The same rules applied to countries whose production was not as sustainable. “The market needs to reward being eco-friendly and ’green’“, the minister said.
“If we want to achieve SDG2 trading has to take place not in the same goods but on equal terms“, said Ertharin Cousin, a Distinguished Fellow of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Formerly the executive director of the World Food Programme, she reminded the audience that food imports in developing countries often consisted of high-calorie products, which contributed to malnutrition. Obesity was a problem that increasingly affected people in poor countries and who had a low income. It was therefore important to support investment in food systems which created jobs locally and ensured food diversity.
Alan Wolff, the deputy director general of the WTO, sounded a cautionary note. International agricultural trade relations not only had to do with trading food, but also with technology, irrigation systems and services, for insuring harvests for instance. “Trade can offset the effects of many events, incidents such as the bushfires in Australia.“ Wolff also recalled that the main reason for international trade agreements was to secure peace – “one does not go to war with one’s customers“, was the WTO’s founding mantra.
High-level EU panels
The focus of the high-level panel of the European Union was on the prospects for trade in food and farming products to ensure food security and economic development in Africa. In the June 2014 Malabo Declaration of the African Union (AU), African nations had pledged to triple the volume of trade within Africa by 2025. There are also plans to create an African free trade zone by 2020. The 55 nations of the AU are divided into five regions; in the future the comparative advantages of each individual region are to be taken into account in trading.
“Without trade on the African continent we would be unable to survive“, said Anna Shiweda, the Namibian deputy minister of agriculture. The country with the lowest levels of rainfall south of the Sahara consumed as little water as possible, she said. Its main agricultural product was beef, which was exported to the EU. Sales had recently begun to China, Hong Kong and the USA as well. “We cannot produce in large quantities; the focus is on quality so that our producers can achieve high prices“, said Shiweda, describing the country’s trading strategy.
Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Josefa Sacko highlighted the vicious circle in which many farmers in developing countries were trapped. International markets demanded high quality, and the world market determined the prices of the products being traded. “In order to ensure good quality one must invest. Our farmers cannot do that if the prices for their products are too low and they cannot make their investments pay“, the AU commissioner said.
Ethiopia’s Minister of Agriculture Oumer Hussien Oba was also critical of international trade. Ethiopia is the continent’s most important coffee producer. 15 per cent of its production goes into exports, where it achieves premium prices. Among industries that fared less well was horticulture. Companies there were unable as yet to meet most of the EU’s demands – from production all the way to marketing. “We do not wish the EU to lower its standards, rather for them to educate us so we can meet the minimum standards“, said the minister, addressing European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski.
“Our farmers say that trade is a good thing, but it must take place on equal terms“, said Wojciechowski, clarifying the position of the EU. Uniform standards were important, not only for protecting the consumer but the environment and climate as well. “I think we are working very constructively with Africa, to ensure these countries can better succeed in fulfilling our standards“, the EU commissioner said. “Our door is always open to products from Africa.”
This view was echoed by Johan Swinnen, the director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). In recent years there had been an increase in African exports to the EU. While many studies had shown that food standards could hinder trade, they often boosted commerce, as was the case with Namibia. However, African exports in processed products were still low, as with chocolate, for example. Africa exported cocoa beans which were processed in other countries and were re-imported as chocolate. “Diversification could significantly improve integration on the world markets“, said Swinnen. The participants in the event all agreed that Africa could no longer be regarded solely as a supplier of raw materials.
Berlin Agriculture Ministers' Conference with 71 ministers
The high point of the GFFA was the 12th Berlin Agriculture Ministers’ Conference, at which Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture Julia Klöckner welcomed 71 colleagues from around the world as well as representatives of 12 international organisations. “Without trade there can be no food security“, the minister said, opening the event. It was important that international trade was characterised by fairness and transparency and that farmers everywhere – including smallholders in the southern hemisphere – were on the winning side. At the same time it was important that environmental protection and food security standards were not undermined. It was vital to strengthen the World Trade Organisation again in order to guarantee standards and ensure that agricultural subsidies, which distorted the market, were reduced.
The agriculture ministers summarised the results of their talks in a joint communiqué, in which they pledged to promote international agricultural trade and to also make it sustainable. To achieve this, trade barriers needed to come down and global standards had to be introduced. Another demand was that profits from surpluses should benefit every country and social class. Local, regional and global value chains had to be rapidly established in order for agriculture to be able to benefit from trade. In particular, there had to be support for the risk management of smallholders, who needed to be integrated more in the markets, the communiqué continued. Technological and organisational innovations needed to help make the food and farming industries more efficient, save resources and at the same time more attractive for a new generation of farmers.
“The decisions taken today are a strong signal for free trade based on rules and values“, said Minister of Agriculture Klöckner, before she handed over the communiqué to FAO Director General Qu Dongyu, WTO Deputy Secretary General Alan Wolff, and Vice Minister Aidarbek Saparov of Kazakhstan, who will be hosting the forthcoming WTO Ministerial Conference. The progress made in implementing the communiqué’s pledges will be discussed at the GFFA 2022.
The Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) has been held at the International Green Week since 2009. Over a period of three days high-ranking experts from around the world meet at this conference to discuss the major issues concerning the world's food and farming industries. This year the conference slogan was 'Food for everyone! Trade in support of safe, diverse and sustainable food supplies'.
Additional information on the Green Week: