Can the G7 be a force for good in the current global food security crisis?
Carin Smaller, former Director of Agriculture, Trade, and Investment at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and now Executive Director at Shamba Centre for Food & Climate, and David Laborde, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI on what's on the agenda at the G7-Summit in Schloss Elmau – then to now and ‘Beyond Elmau’.
The Group of Seven wealthy nations (G7), currently led by the German presidency, has put a welcome focus on the global food insecurity and nutrition crisis unleashed by the war in Ukraine, with the most severe impacts falling on vulnerable populations in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The two May G7 meetings produced four separate communiqués, each of them dozens of pages long (the development ministers communiqué alone was 23Tit pages!) and a G7-led Global Alliance for Food Security was announced. The G7 meetings coincided with serious efforts on the same front by the UN, which has set up a Global Crisis Response Group and convened a UN Security Council meeting on Food Insecurity and Conflict.
The G7 effort can help to ensure a commensurate response to what is turning out to be the worst global hunger crisis in decades, and in so doing help to elevate the G7 itself, whose relevance as an exclusive group of rich and elite countries has been questioned. To realize this promise, however, G7 commitments must be backed up with action—particularly funding.
In 2015, the G7 committed to “lift 500 million people in developing countries out of hunger and malnutrition by 2030.” Figure 1 shows the evolution of official development assistance (ODA) from G7 and non-G7 countries to LMICs in the periods just before and after the 2015 Elmau commitment was made. While emergency food assistance has increased, the overall spending needed to achieve the long-term goal of lifting 500 million people from hunger and malnutrition has stagnated at an average of $12 billion per year, with the G7 contribution stagnating at $7.5 billion per year. So even before the current crisis, the G7 has failed to make additional resources available to achieve the Elmau commitment.
What has changed?
The G7 foreign ministers May 14 communiqué made global food security, particularly for the most vulnerable, a top foreign policy objective, while the G7 agriculture ministers sent powerful messages on all aspects of global agriculture and food security, offering concrete financial and technical support to the G20 Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), which can help create transparency on food, agriculture and fertilizer markets, limiting further disruptions and discouraging individual countries from taking unilateral action, like export bans, that would exacerbate hunger around the world.
The G7 development ministers communiqué goes a step further, providing more specifics and ambition. The ministers simultaneously committed to a robust immediate response to the crisis alongside a long-term strategy, backed by scientific evidence, to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and build resilience to further shocks. The announcement of Global Alliance for Food Security, which will work closely with others to respond to the global hunger crisis, particularly through the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), is expected to mobilize $12 billion to respond to the crisis. The communiqué also importantly recognizes other initiatives, including the UN Global Crisis Response Group, the French-led Food and Agriculture Resilience Mission (FARM Initiative), and the Italian-led Mediterranean Ministerial Dialogue on the Food Security Crisis.
The communiqué reaffirms the G7 commitment to give 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) as ODA, and to reverse the declining trend in ODA to least developed countries. This is particularly important to raise the additional ODA needed, and as a way to put pressure on countries like the United Kingdom, which recently tried to reverse this commitment, and whose aid levels dropped by 51% last year. It also puts G7 countries like the United States and Japan in the spotlight, since they had not yet officially set the 0.7% figure as a national policy target.
The commitment “to strengthen, and not undermine, the long-term resilience and sustainability of agriculture and food systems” reinforces the need to go beyond the crisis and beyond the emergency response.
Such a long-term vision in the face of the worst hunger crisis in decades shows an understanding of the interlinkages between a fragile food system and its vulnerability to shocks, not only today but in the future.
“Beyond Elmau, the G7 development ministers look inward at their own agricultural policies that could be undermining efforts to achieve global food security and achieve climate change commitments. The G7 commits to “explore the value of establishing a knowledge network for the transformation of agricultural policies in close alignment with existing initiatives” (para 13). This commitment is linked to a series of studies by the UN, IFPRI, and others on the need to repurpose billions of dollars of agricultural support in G7 countries, away from support that is harmful to the climate, biodiversity, food security, nutrition, human health, and the environment. The purpose of the knowledge network would be to collect information and analyse the negative impacts of agricultural support so they could be repurposed to other types of support, like research and development, or safety nets for farmers. This is an important step forward to ensuring agricultural policies support the achievement of climate commitments, and an important signal in the run up to COP27.
The G7’s support for the Zero Hunger Coalition, a long-term alliance to eliminate hunger nutritiously and sustainably by 2030, is another important recognition of the need to base action on science and builds on the outcomes of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, including a recognition of the commitments made by companies through the Zero Hunger Private Sector Pledge, which now stands at $458 million in pledges by 43 companies in 48 countries.
Crucially, the rest of the G7 finally follows Canada’s lead by supporting a feminist development policy to ensure that all development actions “increasingly target equity and equality of genders and sexual identities.” This is an essential policy change to avoid the pervasive neglect of women in agricultural development and to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.
These stated priorities are ambitious commitments that can make a real difference. Yet the G7 has yet to make sufficient ODA commitments to achieve the longer-term agenda. Without such additional resources, these will remain hollow promises.
How to turn commitments into action?
In their May communiqué, the G7 development ministers recommit to the 2015 Elmau goal and add that meeting it will be “[b]ased on the sound scientific identification of financing needs and the most efficient interventions and approaches to achieve this goal in a sustainable manner”—a reference to a series of scientific studies by Ceres2030, ZEF, and FAO. These studies found that donors need to double their current ODA contributions to agriculture and food security to achieve the goal. Specifically, mobilizing an additional $14 billion of ODA for agriculture and food security per year until 2030, and spending that money more effectively in 10 high impact investment areas, is what is needed (See Ceres2030). The G7 development ministers are to be applauded for the strong engagement and ambition set forth in their communique. But the real test for the G7 will be whether these ambitions are matched with the resources required to actually realize them.
At the May meetings, G7 finance ministers pledged an additional $20 billion in 2022 to help Ukraine fight the Russian invasion. This support is essential to help the Ukrainian people. The U.S. has approved its own $40 billion in assistance to Ukraine. While the aid package is overwhelming in its size and ambition, about 2% of it goes to longer-term agriculture and food security either at the bilateral level via the Economic Support Fund or through multidonor fund GAFSP. Unless the G7 also commits to providing resources to those fighting hunger around the world, then the war on hunger can never be won.