The High Level Panel of Experts of the World Committee of Food Security
by Hilal Elver*
Global food insecurity is a highly complicated, persistent, and multi-dimensional issue that involves multiple sectors, various players, and policy domains (McKeon 2021). It appears in various ways in the different regions of the world, and it has a vast variety of interdependent underlying structural causes that are also linked to other global issues. In times of massive crises, the international community focuses on establishing effective food governance (McKeon 2015). The sudden spike of food prices in 2007-2008 created major political uprisings in many developing countries. At that time, improving global food governance became a central focus of international discussions. As a result, in 2009, the Committee of the World Food Security (CFS) (originally created in 1974 as a UN intergovernmental body) was reformed and renewed to serve as a forum for review and follow up for food security policies. Since then, CFS is widely seen as the “foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform”for food security and nutrition globally.
The 2009 reforms outlined a substantial role for CFS, aimed at enhancing international cooperation and involving all international organizations, states, private actors, and NGOs relevant to food security and nutrition. The idea was to increase the legitimacy of this newly reformed institution as a “decision-making body for global governance of food security” whose plans would be coordinated and facilitated by UN organizations. Since its reform, CFS has served as “a model for inclusive decision-making.”
One of the major aims in establishing CFS was to connect diverse knowledge systems and actors in complex and multidimensional post-crisis food systems in order to avoid recurring future food crises. Housed in Rome at the Food and Agriculture Organizations of the UN (FAO), CFS works with several other UN organizations, such as the FAO, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Food Program (WFP) and other UN bodies whose work is connected to food security, nutrition, and the right to food, such as the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Standing Committee on Nutrition.
Unlike other UN global governing bodies, CFS allows participation from a wide range of actors: States; businesses and private philanthropic foundations through the Private Sector Mechanism (PSM); and civil society organizations and international NGOs through the Civil Society Mechanism (CSM). CSM networks relevant to issues of food security and nutrition are especially important, and particular attention is paid to small holder family farmers, artisanal fisherfolks, herders/pastoralists, landless urban poor, agricultural and food workers, women, youth, and consumers. Importantly, CSM allows for the strong participation of Indigenous Peoples and local voices from around the world. In this way, CFS facilitates participation from a range of stakeholders in decision-making processes at a global level. Participation from civil society was an especially positive and historical development among the global governance mechanisms (Clapp 2009).
The High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) was also created as “the science-policy interface” for CFS and helps it respond to the need to improve the quantity, quality, and diversity of food security and nutrition (FSN) knowledge in relevant multi-stakeholder platforms. The main functions of the HLPE as stated in the CFS reform document are to:
- Assess and analyze the current state of food security and nutrition and its underlying causes.
- Provide scientific and knowledge-based analysis and advice on specific policy-relevant issues, utilizing existing high quality research, data and technical studies.
- Identify emerging issues, and help members prioritize future actions and attentions on key focal areas.
The rationale behind the HLPE was to create a process for better shared understanding of food insecurity and its causes, consequences, and potential remedies to help policy makers to make appropriate decisions to critical and emerging issues. Given the multidisciplinary complexity of FSN, HLPE plays an essential role “towards a better shared understanding of both problems and potential solutions.” Over the years, the HLPEhas become a central element of CFS by advancing policy coordination and managing various streams of knowledge.
The HLPE periodically provides comprehensive reports as requested by CFS. Reports are usually prepared by a project team: a leader who is a world expert in the theme and 10-15 team members selected by the HLPE Steering Committee. The Steering Committee constitutes of 15 world-renowned scientists and social scientists who are experts on FSN. Committee members are selected for 2-year terms through a transparent process giving due weight to diversity in terms of gender, geography, and scientific discipline. The Committee instructs and oversees the project team. In every step of the report-writing process, the HLPE consults with a wide range of experts through highly transparent procedures. The HLPE by its design does not conduct new research; reports are carefully designed to collect existing scientific data, information, and comments with inputs from over 1200 experts and civil society actors. The review process carefully checks for scientific legitimacy and credibility. HLPE reports are published independently, without clearance or influence from states and organizations. The content of the final reports also does not represent the official views of CFS, its members, and participants.
The HLPE has produced influential, evidence-based normative reports to aid CFS’ creation of its Voluntary Guidelines, as well as various Notes and Occasional Papers. CFS has also produced other recommendations developed on the basis of HLPE reports, such as Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems and the Framework for Action for Food Security and Nutrition in Protracted Crises, among others.
Drawing lessons from other international expert processes, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the International Assessment of the role of Agricultural Science and Technology of Development (IAASTD), the relations and exchanges between the expert body and decision-makers prove to be delicate interactions that go beyond scientific debates, onto political negotiation platforms.
Food security is a highly political issue both at the national and international levels. Each player often has its own view and solutions, and many of these views are contested and contradict each other. Food security is also affected by external factors such as climate change, economic shocks, conflicts, and geopolitical interests, and power imbalances among players. Therefore, building a common understanding is both necessary and almost impossible. The HLPE, with its independent and scientifically structured features, serves to give the best policy options in food security and nutrition.
*Hilal Elver is a Global Distinguished Fellow at the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy. She is the former UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Food (2014-2020), and currently a member of the High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) of the World Committee of Food Security (CFS).
You can find her website here.