42nd OAS General Assembly in Bolivia Set to Debate "Food Security with Sovereignty in the Americas"

Report
from Organization of American States
Published on 28 May 2012 View Original

May 28, 2012

Food security and sovereignty, one of the main concerns in the Americas, will be the central focus of debate during the Forty-Second regular session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), to be held in Cochabamba, Bolivia from June 3 to 5, 2012. Foreign ministers from throughout the hemisphere will meet to discuss how to better provide access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to their peoples, while recognizing their right to define their own policies and strategies to guarantee the right to food for the entire population.

Malnutrition and chronic hunger in the Americas persist due to the convergence of a variety of problems that lead to simultaneous energy, financial, climactic and food crises. In 2011, approximately 52.5 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean suffered from hunger, roughly 9% of the region’s total population. The effects of inflation on food prices and persistent price volatility put at risk many of the gains made in this area, and increase the risk of greater poverty and reduced access to adequate nutrition by the most vulnerable groups.

Much of this inflation and price volatility is related to the effects of globalization. For example, it’s estimated that in the last three years the prices of basic staples like wheat, rice and corn have risen by more than 80%. Among the reasons for this rise in prices are increased fuel prices, prolonged droughts in grain-producing countries like Australia, increased food demand in countries like China and India, and the use of corn for the producing of bio-fuels. These external factors that affect food security are outside the control of national governments and lead to concerns over state sovereignty.

The Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, highlighted the importance of the issue, declaring that ¨to progress toward a more just, egalitarian and inclusive food framework, we need to promote and strengthen public policies designed to promote increased investment in agriculture, strengthen agricultural markets, integrate small producers’ markets, promote fair trade, control volatility in food prices, develop more programs to help vulnerable populations access food, and promote educational programs in food and nutritional security.”

Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, during the presentation of the central theme of the Assembly, explained his government had chosen to focus on the issue because of its concern regarding the various problems and crises that affect humanity, and especially the hemisphere. "The development model implemented by Western society has created major imbalances and inequalities and has caused many crises, including energy, financial, institutional and food crises, as well as climate change, and even a crisis of values," he said. Minister Choquehuanca emphasized the need to address these problems jointly, as he considered that solving them “is not only the responsibility of governments, heads of state and other authorities, but it must also involve everyone, including social organizations, organized civil society and all the democratic institutions in our countries."

The Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the OAS, Diego Pary, said his country chose to focus on food security only after a wide debate with civil society. “Food security,” he recognized, “is not a traditional subject in our organization, but the new crises, among them the food crisis,” make facing the issue a priority.

The OAS is prepared to support its Member States in the search for public policies designed to provide food security for their people. The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) is the specialized agency of the Inter-American system for the promotion of agriculture and rural well-being, and its efforts are focused on making agriculture competitive and self-sustaining in the hemisphere. Making food security a reality is one of the primary aims of the IICA, and the group has held several forums and carried out studies on the issue.

The starting point for the debate in Cochabamba will be the proposal from the government of Bolivia, which includes the definition of food security with sovereignty as “the realization of the right to food.” The document also calls for commitments to “guarantee food production, access, and consumption for men and women in order to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in the Americas.” It also includes commitments to recognize and foster diversification of output, establish food reserves for periods of crisis, promote fair trade, control excessive volatility in food prices, encourage intra-regional marketing of foods, empower family and small farmers, and establish a fund for food production.

For three days at the June meeting in Cochabamba, the governments of the Americas will seek to increase cooperation to face the challenges of food security with sovereignty. The Member States will debate, among other issues, how to guarantee the right to adequate nutrition independently of other social rights, how to implement integral systems of social protection in a coordinated manner with policies for the increase of capacities and local development; and how to strengthen agro-food markets and social and economic inclusion from a socially sustainable development perspective.

The framework of the General Assembly also provides opportunities for other hemispheric actors to participate in the debates in Cochabamba. On Saturday, June 2 the Secretary General and Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin will hold a conversation with civil society groups in the Hotel Regina Tiquipaya, and on Sunday, June 3, the delegation heads will join Secretary General Insulza for a dialogue with workers’ representatives, private sector representatives, and social actors.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.