What NGOs Want From the Mexico G20 on Food Security and Nutrition

LOS CABOS, Mexico -- On the eve of the G20 Summit, which opens here on June 18, I've been looking into what nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) want to get out of the G20 Mexico on an issue that is a priority to NGOs as well as the Mexican presidency of the G20 -- "enhancing food security and addressing commodity price volatility," in the words of the Mexican government.

And I discovered that the biggest NGOs and NGO coalitions here in Los Cabos are advocating for many of the same food security and nutrition issues, but also have some differences.

In its paper titled Food Security: A G20 Priority, the Mexican government defines food security "not only as an increase in production, but also the availability of, and access to, food by the population."

In a sense, that is one of the highest priorities of NGOs advocating on this issue at Los Cabos -- to ensure that the G20 not only takes steps to increase food production but also to make sure that the most vulnerable, especially women and children, have access to it.

Despite the U.S. government's stonewalling of U.S. civil society for much of the time leading up to the Camp David G8 Summit last month, NGOs were encouraged that the G8 made child nutrition a central theme of its discussions and the $3 billion New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition that was announced by President Obama.

I reviewed the G20 food security and nutrition recommendations of six major NGOs and NGO coalitions and found that they had many commonalities but also some differences. I looked at:

InterAction, the coalition of U.S. NGOs
BOND, the coalition of United Kingdom NGOs
1,000 Days, a partnership of NGOs, donors and private sector partners
Oxfam International
Save the Children UK
World Vision International

All six were unanimous in their desire to have the G20 address:

Policy Change: To review or change current policies that facilitate hunger. BOND called for identifying policies and practices "that effectively improve household nutrition." InterAction asked that the G20 "adopt rules like the Dodd-Frank legislation to limit commodity speculation." And WVI and Save the Children UK called on G20 agricultural ministers "to develop nutrition-sensitive agricultural policies" (WVI) "with a view to making recommendations to the 2013 Summit" (Save the Children). Only InterAction, BOND and Oxfam called for an end to biofuel mandates and subsidies "in order to help reduce food price volatility."

Safety Nets: To provide social protection, food reserves and safety nets, "to blunt shocks from food crises" (InterAction) and to protect against the volatility of commodity prices.

Women and Children: To focus on women and children, and "to integrate civil society partnerships with gender analysis" and "gender-sensitive" development policies." WVI calls for "a stronger focus on children within the sustainable development agenda."

Scaling Up Nutrition: To participate in and support the Scaling Up Nutrition framework, a response to the continuing high levels of under-nutrition and uneven progress toward the Millennium Development Goal to halve poverty and hunger by 2015.

Small-Scale Producers: All but one emphasized the importance of reaching small-scale producers. BOND combined this idea with gender by calling for "a focus on women smallholder farmers."

Surprisingly, only InterAction, BOND and Oxfam asked the G20 to do more to address climate change and to adapt agriculture to it, even though that is one of the five priority issues on Mexico's G20 agenda.

Only 1,000 Days and WVI called for the adoption of "bold global and country-level targets to reduce stunting by at least 20 percent in the next five years, which would give over 34 million children a healthy start to life, boosting their future earning potential and helping to secure their country's economic future." Such indicators are critical to the accountability of future nutrition interventions and I wish the idea had won broader support among NGOs.

1,000 Days prioritized better nutrition surveillance to identify crises before they occur but I am not sure that surveillance is the problem. As I wrote on The Huffington Post last year, effective early warning systems put into place after the great famine of 1984-85 in the Horn of Africa predicted the famine of 2011 well before it arrived but that did not ensure that measures were taken to prepare for it.

1,000 Days and WVI were the only organizations to call specifically for "direct interventions" designed to improve the nutritional status of women and children under two by such activities as antenatal nutrition, child feeding practices, food fortification, micronutrients and therapeutic foods. Of the five sets of recommendations, 1,000 Days' and WVI's were the most oriented toward maternal, newborn and child health.

No one here in Los Cabos is expecting a major new G20 commitment along the lines of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition announced last month at the Camp David G8, but since the Mexican Presidency -- not to mention the B20 Business Summit -- has made food security and nutrition one of their five priorities, civil society is certainly expecting something to come out of this summit. Sunday afternoon, the G20 Mexico tweeted: "Mexico expects the adoption of recommendations to promote greater public and private investment in #agriculture." On June 19, we will learn what they are.