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And now, a Beijing Consensus

September 26, 2005

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Last week the UN Food and Agricultural Organization released a declaration titled The Beijing Consensus on the Future of Global Agriculture and Rural Areas: A Blueprint for Action.


C. Peter Timmer CGD Senior Fellow Peter Timmer, who played a leading role in the creation of the document, explains the key recommendations and their implications for the future:


What are the three main recommendations of the group?

All of the recommendations deal with getting topics on the agenda of donors and national governments. The three most important topics the group discussed were the crucial role of agriculture in the poverty reduction process in the poorest countries; the need to reimburse the poor for the services they provide in managing some of the world’s most fragile eco-systems; and the concern that small farmers might be excluded from local markets as modern supply chains are globalized.


What's new about these findings?

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of the discussions was the serious interaction across disciplines and problem areas. What’s new is that we all actually came to a consensus on reasonably specific agenda items. Usually these meetings end with an agreement to disagree. I did much of the drafting of the final document and was surprised at how hard all the participants tried to reach agreement.


Who would need to act in order for these recommendations to be implemented? (i.e. national politicians, technocrats, international aid agencies?)

The Consensus is aimed primarily at donors and national governments. It is at these levels that agriculture and rural development pretty much disappeared from the public policy and investment agenda two decades ago, which also corresponds with the time period of worsening rural poverty in the poorest countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Putting these recommendations into action will require country-specific analysis and action, which need to be supported by donors.


Do you expect that this report will actually change anything? Why?

It might. Normally I'm pretty cynical about these things, but this report actually seems to come at just the right time to move this debate forward. On its own, of course, it will not do much. But by crystalizing thinking in the right direction, and getting official UNFAO buy-in, the Consensus might encourage countries to take the next step.


What steps can citizens of the rich countries take to contribute to the changes the report proposes?

Educate themselves! Get informed! The level of understanding of these issues among the citizens of rich countries is really quite sad. It’s hard to know how to vote, or to participate in public debates, without a reasonably sophisticated understanding of these complex issues.