India blames developed nations’ consumption for food crisis

May 22nd, 2008 - 3:40 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New York, May 22 (IANS) Denying that increasing consumption by the middle class in developing countries has led to the current food crisis, India has blamed it on the developed countries’ excessive and unsustainable consumption levels. Speaking at a special meeting of the UN’s Economic and Social Council on “The Global Food Crisis”, India’s ambassador to the UN Nirupam Sen said Wednesday that the consumption trend in the developing countries has existed for a decade and, therefore, cannot explain rising prices over the last one year.

Sen said the initial conjunction of lower food prices and high oil prices led to sale of grain to energy producers for conversion into energy, bolstered by a climate change argument that was overdone.

“In several developed countries, land for food crops shrank as it was lost to bio-fuels,” he said while welcoming calls for a rollback and elimination of bio-fuel development.

Quoting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on “the direct link between oil prices and food prices, oil markets and food markets”, Sen said this structural consequence is disturbing and complicates policy.

He also underlined the negative role played by the financial crisis in the US.

“Speculators, encouraged by the dollar’s relative decline, invest in food futures to profit from the commodities super cycle,” Sen said while predicting that this bubble, too, will burst.

Sen said that while the UN bodies - Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Development Programme (UNDP) - work for the right to food, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) advise countries not just to export surplus food, which is right, but also to shift from food crops for the domestic population to cash crops for export, which is harmful.

“The World Bank and IMF also seem to feel that subsidies are good for the rich but bad for the poor, with a predictable negative impact on food production,” he said.

Sen cited the case of the African country of Malawi, which reintroduced fertilisers and seeds subsidies last year and became self-sufficient and even a net exporter.

Sen said the remedy suggested by some experts of eliminating restrictions on food exports in the interest of market purism is in line with World Bank and IMF’s advice, which is partly responsible for the crisis in the first place.

On what the international community could do to mitigate the food crisis, Sen gave the instance of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, which could engage more intensively on solutions to problems of small and marginal farmers. He said key areas that needed attention were land development, water management and seed technology.

Quoting Singh again, Sen said: “We need a new global compact between the developed and the developing countries, between the land surplus and labour surplus economies, between food exporters and food importers”.

Sen outlined measures taken by India to increase agricultural output and food security, some of which may be replicable in other developing countries. The measures have included revitalising agricultural research and extension, national rural employment guarantee scheme, waiver of bank loans to small and marginal farmers, strengthening the public procurement and public distribution system, as well as banning futures trading in a range of food items.

According to latest estimates, Sen said, India will have a record harvest in 2007-08, thereby continuing its four decades old self-sufficiency in food grains.

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