Dutch priorities for its contribution to global food security taking shape

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      This week, the Dutch Parliament debated the Dutch approach to contribute to global food security.

      The discussion was based on a letter sent to Parliament by the Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and the Minister of Agriculture (the international title of the State Secretary of Economic Affairs, tasked with agricultural matters) on 18 November 2014.

      The letter very much reflects the spirit of the broader Aid, Trade and Investment Agenda issued in April last year. This should not come as a surprise, as the government hasn’t changed in the meantime, so that it logically continues on the path it has set out for itself. This implies a continued focus on marrying aid, trade and investment efforts for the benefit of global public goods like food security.

      The continuity of direction, combined with an absence of policy detail, may explain why little attention has been paid to the letter by media and stakeholders alike since it came out. This is probably also the reason why the letter ended up as the 21st and pre-final agenda point of the meeting on food of the parliamentary Economic Affairs Committee this week.

      However, I think that the letter deserves attention, as it clearly outlines the focus of global food security efforts of The Netherlands in the next few years. In short, three specific objectives with related priority areas are defined:

      1. Eliminate hunger and malnutrition.  Emphasis in the coming years will be put on addressing the underlying causes of undernutrition, in particular related to sexual and reproductive rights of women and strengthening resilience, for example through risk management, insurance, social safety nets, strengthening of local markets and climate adaptation;
      2. Promote inclusive and sustainable growth in the agricultural sector.  Focus will be put on value chain approaches, going beyond production challenges to also address issues related to processing, distribution and consumption patterns. This will particularly imply enhancing efforts to address food losses along the chain; improving agro-logistics; developing local, urban and especially regional markets; and support to strengthening agricultural and trade policies to ensure a more enabling environment;
      3. Promote ecologically sustainable systems.  The landscape approach is centre stage in Dutch global food security efforts, to guide the allocation and management of land to achieve social, economic, and environmental objectives. It is also announced that Dutch engagement will be stepped up to enhance the sustainability of the livestock sector, in light of the expected growth of this sector and Dutch expertise in this area. 

       This agenda setting looks promising. That was also the tone of most parliamentarians in the debate, coalition and opposition parties alike, who didn’t question the goals and general direction. Criticism could nevertheless be heard, with parliamentarians claiming that more attention is to be paid to the role of agricultural education and the position of landless agricultural workers. Most interventions however didn't question the directions set out in the letter, but focused on how to get it done.

      Indeed, the crux of the matter is how it will be implemented. This food security agenda raises expectations, but how can delivery on expectations be ensured? Here three areas that merit specific attention and reflection in its operationalization:

      How to strengthen policy coherence for food security?

      The agenda stipulates that policy coherence is to be ensured and a few parliamentarians also called for it explicitly. However, putting it in practice is complicated. It involves trade-offs between conflicting objectives and requires expertise on the impact of a broad range of policies on global food security.

      The fact that the policy directions are defined in a joint letter of the Ministry of International Trade and Development Cooperation and the Minister of Agriculture and that it is discussed in the Committee of Economic Affairs in conjunction with other food-related policy initiatives is a good starting point.

      Ministers supported ‘policy coherence for food security’, such as the Dutch commitment to support developing countries’ efforts to reduce food waste in combination with strong efforts to reduce food waste in the Netherlands (to cover the full value chain). Many opportunities to strengthen policy coherence for food security exist in areas such as trade, energy and investment promotion, as also discussed in two ECDPM Discussion Papers (that can be found here and here).

      How to ensure full alignment to partner countries’ policy frameworks and dynamics?

      The policy directions are in line with tendencies in many developing countries and regions, like for example the 2014 Malabo Declaration by African Heads of States. However, providing adequate support to African and other partner countries and regions requires in-depth analysis and adaptation to specific local contexts, based on a thorough analysis of the drivers of change, that is, the political economy that drives food and nutrition security in each case, as argued in an earlier blog by ECDPM director Paul Engel, which deserves to be scaled up.  

      This requires proper capacities to engage with partner governments and other stakeholders. Embassies, and in particular the strong network of Dutch agricultural counsellors, play an important role in this regard, an example that other countries can learn from. The weak capacities of The Netherlands’ embassies to engage with regional economic communities remain however worrisome, particularly in light of the stated ambition to support regional cooperation.

      How to make multi-stakeholder partnerships work?

      Engaging in multi-stakeholder partnerships is at the core of the Dutch approach, to join forces of government representatives, the private sector, civil society and knowledge institutes. In this spirit the Netherlands recently initiated together with FAO and the World Bank the Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture and engages actively in the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Domestically, the Ministry of Economic Affairs cooperates with the Food Sustainability Alliance

      The importance of promoting and engaging in multi-stakeholder partnerships at partner country and regional level is not to be forgotten. Genuine inclusiveness and transparency of such coordination and cooperation efforts should be a priority concern, to ensure the interests of actors such as smallholders and local SMEs are taken into account. This is one of the means to safeguard that the promotion of Dutch private sector interests doesn’t prevail over the objective of local private sector development, a worry expressed by several parliamentarians in the debate.

      The Dutch contribution to global food security can, and in my view should, be further debated in parliament early 2015, when the government’s response to a report of the Scientific Council for Government Policy on food will be on the agenda, which should not be limited to discussing national food-related issues only.

      The government is also considering organizing meetings with stakeholders to further develop specific elements presented in the global food security letter. Importantly, these reflections should help implementation tools to be adapted to put the policy into practice. My colleagues and I at ECDPM look forward to staying engaged in this process. 


      This blog represents the views of the author and the necessarily that of ECDPM 

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