Governance Options for an International Food Reserves — Canadian Foodgrains Bank

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In the wake of the 2007/8 and 2010-11 food price crises, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a partnership of all the major Canadian church-related development agencies, was alarmed at the realization that sudden food price spikes had the potential to make additional millions of people at least temporarily food insecure. Such price induced food crises can quickly overwhelm the total gains made by the recent decades of effort to reduce hunger in developing countries.

The many analyses which were made in the years following have underlined the complexity of factors which contributed to the crisis, but it is clear that some factors built on others and that it may be possible to address several of the causes by looking at a single aspect – the exceptionally low stock-to-use ratio for major cereals (i.e. low food reserve levels) in the period leading up to the crisis.

Accordingly, we saw the need to research the issue of public food reserves. Early in the post World War II period there were deliberate food reserve policies in place, initially as part of the International Wheat Agreement, and later as part of the domestic policies of the US and the European Community. In addition, many developing countries also maintained food reserves. All of these policies were changed in the 1980s; it was widely accepted at the time that such policies were no longer appropriate. Without prejudging the case, we have sought to re-examine the issue in the light of the 2007/8 and 2010/11 price spikes.

This report is the fourth in a series of discussion papers focussing on the use of an international food reserve as a policy instrument to strengthen food security.

An increasing number of experts recognize that the changing nature of global grain production may call for the re-establishment of some form of international food reserve. However, the problem of how such a reserve could be governed to ensure that it behaves in a predictable and transparent fashion and does not become a tool giving export advantage to any one party is often raised, based on the experience of earlier large exporter reserves. Sophia Murphy, an acknowledged authority on international politics of food and agricultural trade, has been asked to look at the existing international institutions whose mandates or functioning are comparable to those of an international food reserve and suggest what elements may apply to a future international food reserve. We are very pleased with the outcome and believe that it contributes to the ongoing search for new policy tools to deal with increasingly volatile and vulnerable global food systems.

Stuart Clark, Canadian Foodgrains Bank