UN seeks agriculture renaissance while fighting food crisis

May 25th, 2008 - 8:46 am ICT by admin  

By J.T. Nguyen
New York, May 25 (DPA) With food and energy prices already spiralling upwards, the UN fears a defeat of its plans to eliminate poverty and hunger. One solution is an agricultural renaissance that includes steering farm subsidies from developed countries to poorer nations. Japan’s donation of $47.8 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) Friday to alleviate severe food shortages in Africa, Asia and the Middle East will not be the last generosity from rich countries.

Other nations and the World Bank have begun sending out big cheques, but any global solution to fill hungry stomachs, or prevent social unrest, is still beyond reach.

Rich oil-exporting Saudi Arabia, which reaps huge profits from high gasoline prices, gave $500 million to WFP, prompting a thank-you note from the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The UN Economic and Social Council, known as Ecosoc, ended this week a series of meetings to formulate a solution to the food crisis before the world governments meet in Rome June 3-5 for the first debate on the food crisis.

In July, the world’s eight most industrialised nations will meet in Japan and in September at a special UN General Assembly session to discuss the food crisis.

Ecosoc, however, came out with a seemingly concrete proposal to a complex problem and it called for an urgent action when governments meet in Rome.

“While we must cope with this situation, we must also put in place policies that can turn the threatening situation into an agricultural renaissance,” said Leo Merores of Haiti, who chaired the Ecosoc meetings on food crisis at the UN headquarters in New York.

Merores’ impoverished Haiti has seen the first bloody food riots this past spring in Port-au-Prince which killed several people, including a Nigerian UN peacekeeper, who was not involved in the protests.

Rich countries, while distributing cheques to the poor, may have to curtail subsidies to their own agriculture and farms which the UN said amounted to a total of $273 billion in 2005. The subsidies in developed countries have undermined farmers in poor countries.

Ecosoc also urged a serious rethinking of bio-fuel policies being promoted in some countries in order not to jeopardise food security in poor countries.

Japan has set a generous example before it hosts the G8 meeting, providing $47.8 million to WFP, some 85 percent of which will go to 10 African countries where the food crisis has been most severe. One of them is Burundi, where 90 percent of the 7.5 million population live on less than $2 a day.

Japan’s Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda intended to raise the food issue at the G8 meeting, attended by heads of state and government of the US, France, Britain, Russia, Canada, Italy, Germany and Japan. Leaders from other important countries are also expected.

Burundi’s cost of cassava, a food staple for the poor, who cannot afford other foods, has tripled in one month.

In Asia, meat prices have risen 60 percent in Bangladesh, 45 percent in Cambodia and 30 percent in the Philippines. The prices of rice, the major food in Asia, have risen throughout the Asian continent, triggering hoarding in some places.

Ecosoc said funding pledges to help alleviate the food crisis should be delivered urgently.

Farmers should be able to meet production needs for the next crop season and governments should respond to their needs as a matter of highest priority.

It called on UN members to show the political will and flexibility to work out a new trade regime favouring food security by encouraging food production and agricultural investment in developing countries.

One aspect of the urgent action is to conclude the round of trade negotiations started in Doha, in which the dispute over subsidies and tariffs of developed countries should be resolved. Agriculture in developing countries can benefit from a resolution of those issues.

Ecosoc called for assistance and investment to build better infrastructure and better organisation of poor farmers.

“Investing in reducing harvest and post-harvest losses and in agro-industries will increase the food supply and generate income for the rural poor,” it said.

During the debate on food crisis, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), citing statistics, said 450 million farms, or 85 percent of the worlds total, measure less than two hectares and have the potential to increase food production if they receive long-term help.

But IFAD said many small farmers and landless labourers have now become net buyers of food. The rising food and energy prices have diminished the capacity of small farmers to grow more food for them and sell on the market.

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