Latest updates on the Food Assistance Convention
In their biannual meeting in London, in November 2016, the Food Assistance Committee discussed the review of the relevance of the the convention in 2017. Signatories to the convention plan to undertake the review sometime this year. TAFAD finds this internal exercise important and has contacted the Chair of the FAC to indicate our interest in providing input into the process. We will provide important feedback to strengthen the committee’s work in the areas of coordination, participation of governments of food assistance receiving countries and the voices of the global South. Further updates will be available here by April 2017. Please check back again.
What is the Food Assistance Convention?
The Food Assistance Convention is the only international treaty that sets out an arrangement by which member countries commit to provide some minimal level of resources each year for populations around the world in urgent need of food. Formerly, known as the Food Aid Convention, the Food Assistance Convention has a history that dates back to the late 1960s from which time it has been periodically renegotiated. The current treaty was negotiated in April 2012 and came into force in January 2013 after its predecessor Food Aid Convention expired in 1999. TAFAD played key advocacy and consultative roles in pushing for both the renegotiation and reform of the Convention.
The Food Assistance Convention is governed by the Food Assistance Committee, a body of 14 member countries that are signatory to the Convention. The member countries include Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, the EU, Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, the US, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. The Food Assistance Committee meets biennially in London typically in May and November with the International Grains Council providing secretariat services. TAFAD has been a regular invitee to observe and contribute to discussions at the Committee’s meetings in London.
The Changing Environment of Food Aid Policy
So much has changed about the objectives and mode of delivering food to populations in need. Earlier, food aid was largely provided in commodity form (i.e. grains and other foodstuff) and was sourced in and directly transferred from donor countries to recipients. While this delivered food to hungry people, it also was criticized as serving donor interests especially by serving as a means of surplus disposal and as a foreign policy tool.
Today, much food aid is driven by humanitarian objectives and goes to populations in need of food, especially to people in protracted conflict areas. Much food aid is also procured from areas as close as possible to recipients of food assistance instead of shipping them long distances from donor countries. Purchasing food wherever appropriate ensures lower cost, faster delivery, and/or the encouragement of local food production.
Major Changes in Food Assistance Convention
The changes in the approach to food aid are reflected in the forms to the Food Aid Convention which expired in 1999. An important shift under current Food Assistance Convention is broadening of the scope of modalities of food assistance that is countable towards fulfilling the annual commitments of member countries. This now includes cash, vouchers and supplementary nutrition assistance as opposed to food commodities alone.
Another notable change is the manner in which member commitments are recorded. Earlier, member commitments were expressed in tonnage of wheat equivalence. Under the current convention, member commitments are recorded in any currency of choice by members.
Outstanding Matters in Current Convention
- What will happen when price volatility or exchange rate changes occur? In the event of food price spikes or exchange rate changes, the quantity of food provided to populations in need will be reduced even though parties may still be meeting their minimum annual commitments. That will translate into passing on the effect of market volatility to the hungry.
- The same way, since parties to the convention now express their annual minimum commitments in dollar value (or other currency) as opposed to a specific resource commitment, there is a risk that future commitments could decrease if foreign aid budgets are cut.
- How do we count member commitments so that we know exactly how many people are being reached by parties?
The Trans-Atlantic Food Assistance Dialogue (TAFAD) is a coalition of international NGOs and leading researchers working in the area of food assistance and nutrition. TAFAD advocates for reform of international food assistance policy, with attention to issues that affect beneficiaries of food assistance.
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