ACTION was delighted to be invited by Luca Bellomo, a student with a background in Veterinary Medicine but currently focusing on agricultural economics, to speak to the College of Europe where he is studying.
The origin of this prestigious institute of postgraduate studies and training in European affairs dates back to the Hague Congress of 1948, shortly after the end of the Second World War. The College has been located in Bruges since its foundation, but after the fall of communism a second campus was founded in Poland, reflecting the importance of Central and Eastern Europe to further European integration. The College holds workshops and seminars with many professional groups from within and outside the European institutions, so we were delighted to be invited there to speak about our ideas for food reserves.
As is to be expected from such a sophisticated group, we received a barrage of questions, some of them within our range and some of them frankly beyond us. Within our range were questions such as: ‘what about the World Food Programme?’, where we pointed out that it does not have a mandate to establish and maintain reserves, the key element of our own proposal. We also emphasised that the WFP doesn’t buy from the market in order to replenish their reserve. ACTION stressed that its policy is to create a sustainable system for the long-term management of food supplies, releasing supplies from the reserves when the price is too high (bad for consumers) and replenishing reserves when the price is too low (bad for farmers). It pointed out that in both cases it was acting according to the law of supply and demand. There was no question of interfering with market forces –ACTION’s policy is to use them, not to suspend them.
There were one or two questions outside our range (for instance concerning land-grabbing in Africa and Argentine), but most questions were to-the-point and very useful for us. One person, for instance, asked how we could continue to be financially self-sustaining, buying when the price was too low and selling when it was too high, if we succeeded in our policy of reducing price volatility. The very volatility we sought to eliminate was surely the source of the profit that enabled food reserves to be self-sustaining.
This was a perfectly good point. ACTION is an organisation seeking to limit price volatility (some volatility is inevitable as harvests vary from year to year) and by doing so it does limit the profits it can make from selling when prices are high and buying when they are low. But it is not essentially a profit-making venture. Its aim is to prevent acute crises caused by spikes in the price of food. However, within the limited bounds inside which it seeks to operate, it can still make some profit by replenishing stocks when prices are low and releasing them when prices are high. Even if that is not enough to enable it to be financially self-sufficient, it will at least help to reduce its costs.
The session lasted two hours, of which 30 minutes were made up of our presentation and 90 minutes were made up of questions and comments, some of them about the way in which the reserves would be managed, thereby bringing in the issue of regional governance and the use of the community method in other parts of the world.
It was an excellent experience for us to be confronted by the ‘movers and shakers’ of tomorrow, and we are grateful to the College for allowing us to be among those who have been shaken up a little!