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Between policy and practice: the EU Food and Nutrition Security Implementation Plan

29-05-2013

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Largely overshadowed by provisional budget decisions on the European Development Fund, Development Ministers at yesterday’s Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) endorsed a long awaited and crucial EU Food and Nutrition Security Implementation Plan.

The Implementation Plan (IP), entitled “Boosting food and nutrition security through EU action: implementing our commitments”, is the Commission’s tardy response to an invitation from the FAC to design an operational framework to better coordinate EU and Member States’ policies and programmes in the area of food and nutrition security. Whether the IP will actually be capable of doing so is the crucial question at hand, asked in this blog by Brecht Lein.

The FAC requested an Implementation Plan by the end of 2010 in its conclusions endorsing the EU Food Security Policy Framework, one of the three communications (see below) that have now fed in to the IP. As such, the Plan is perceived as the operational closing piece of the EU’s long-term policy response to the international food crisis evoked by soaring food prices in 2007/08. It complements more direct humanitarian-development approaches such as the EU Food Facility and EU-led multi-stakeholder instruments like the AGIR and SHARE initiatives in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa respectively.

Better late than never

Speculation on the reasons for the excessive delay before reaching an agreement have ranged from administrative reorganisations at the Commission, to an overall lack of political drive from the Member States. Either way, the adoption of the IP is considered a milestone on the long road to a more concerted EU-wide approach to addressing global food insecurity and malnutrition.

The stated aim of the IP is to define an operational response for the EU to deliver on policy commitments made in three prior communications by the Commission. Notably, the previously mentioned Food Security Policy Framework, the EU approach to resilience as presented in October 2012 and the EU Nutrition Policy Framework, issued in March 2013. The latter two were both also up for endorsement yesterday.

3 C’s, joint programming and division of labour

In order to improve the Coherence, Complementarity and Coordination (the “3 C’s”) of EU and Member States’ cooperation, the Plan is based on a “three-pronged” approach centred on:

  1. Enhancing political and policy dialogue on food and nutrition security with partner countries, regional and global organisations and other stakeholders like civil society and the private sector.
  2. Enhancing EU and Member States’ programmes, incl. implementing joint programmes where feasible, and including, but not restricted to, countries where joint programming is currently being carried out.
  3. Identifying interventions for Europe and its Member States, jointly or according to the Code of Conduct on Division of Labour, to contribute to global, regional and national efforts in combatting food and nutrition insecurity.

The above threefold approach is mainstreamed throughout six policy priorities, distilled from the afore- mentioned communications on food security, resilience and nutrition (see box). Since the IP is presented as a reporting and communicating commitment, improvements across these six priority areas will be presented in a joint report to the Council on a biennial basis from 2014 onwards, ending in 2020.

Policy Priority 1. Improve smallholder resilience and rural livelihoods
2. Support effective governance
3. Support regional agriculture and food and nutrition security policies
4. Strengthen social protection mechanisms, particularly for vulnerable populations
5. Enhance nutrition, in particular for mothers, infants and children
6. Enhance coordination between development and humanitarian actors to build resilience and promote sustainable food and nutrition security.

In order to better serve these reporting purposes, the IP foresees a scorecard with relevant performance criteria per policy priority. These criteria are formulated in a broad manner and are generic by nature (e.g. number and value of relevant programmes supported in X countries or at international level), as to allow for each Member State and the EU to tell its own story.

Ideally, this should allow for reliable, regular information on EU and Member States’ efforts and “ensure accountability to policy commitments and further advance the aid effectiveness agenda in concrete terms”. De facto, I sense it leaves much scope for the Commission and the Member States to continue their own strategies.

Pragmatism over ambition

All in all, the IP constitutes a concise yet complete and fairly practical framework to guide a EU-wide approach to boost food and nutrition security in partnering developing countries. The overly pragmatic nature of the IP, in terms of broadly suggested interventions and the modest performance criteria however, could prove a serious impediment for it to gain the necessary traction at Member State level.

Frankly, the IP has everything you would expect in it, yet nothing is specified in a way that allows a guarantee for concrete follow up.

Bearing in mind the long and cumbersome drafting process of the IP, reflecting divergent levels of commitment from the Member States, it is all but certain whether, and in how far, this IP will actually guide EU and Member States’ policies and programmes on food and nutrition security. Add to that the mixed track record on division of labour, as well as the initial nature of joint programming exercises, and it is safe to say that much will depend on how Member States take forward their commitments to a more coherent external profiling of EU and Member States external assistance programmes for enhanced food and nutrition security.

To conclude, despite its apodictic potential, for the IP agreed yesterday to have actual value, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Time will tell in how far this operational framework will actually be used as an implementation tool for joint action, rather than as an ex-post reference document to confirm fixed national strategies.

Brecht Lein is Junior Policy Officer at ECDPM working on Food Security ACP-EU cooperation

 @Brecht_Lein

This blog post features the author’s personal views and does not represent the view of ECDPM.

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Food SecurityEU Policy Coherence for Food SecurityEuropean Union (EU)Nutrition