Sarah Montgomery, our food policy analyst, responds to comments from Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent observer at the UN in Geneva, that the worsening crisis in food price volatility “will have social consequences”:
The Vatican has been speaking out about food and hunger this week, and growing pressure on the G20 to tackle food price spikes is welcome.
But all previous attempts by the G20 to stabilise food security have refused to tackle the underlying factors determining who goes hungry in our world, which is why Archbishop Tomasi’s focus on structural causes is vital.
The G20 must first address the devastating implications of price hikes for poor smallholder farmers. As businesses, they gain little profit as they have insufficient access to markets. As consumers, the price hikes they face for seeds and other basic goods drastically affect their viability and mean they cannot invest for the future.
With the right support (not just any support) these small farmers could produce more food, help keep prices low, and play a vital role in reducing hunger in developing countries.
Current aid, investment and advice is not sufficiently targeted to empower these important economic players; and policies which respond to smallholder farmers’ needs, including price stability, remain on the shelf. Their potential remains unrealised.
This policy blind-spot must be addressed: the G20 needs to stop thinking of smallholders as subsistence farmers in need of charity, but as viable businesses with real potential to transform the global food system and tackle hunger. Until they do, the food crisis cannot be solved.
A version of this response was originally published in The Independent on 1 September 2012.