World leaders hold crisis talks on global food prices (Lead)

June 3rd, 2008 - 5:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Rome, June 3 (DPA) UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged world leaders attending a summit in Rome Tuesday, to lift trade restrictions, taxes and other price controls that have helped spur food prices to their highest levels in 30 years. “You all know the severity of the global food crisis… I have seen it for myself. In Liberia recently, I met people who normally would buy rice by the bag. Today, they buy it by the cup,” Ban said.

He was addressing delegates from some 50 countries, including dozens of heads of state and government, at the UN Conference on World Food Security’s inaugural ceremony.

The UN Secretary-General stressed the need to eliminate trade and taxation policies that “distort markets” but said such “parallel” tracks should not distract donors from the “immediate needs” of some 850 million people who face hunger.

The three-day summit, hosted by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is aimed at winning donor pledges for urgent aid as well as forging an agreement to revive a 1996 pledge by a world leaders to halve the number of hungry people by 2015.

“Important today is to realize that the time for talking is long past. Now is the time for action,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said in his summit address.

FAO has listed 22 countries that are particularly vulnerable due to a combination of high levels of chronic hunger - defined as morethan 30 percent undernourishment - and being net importers of both food and fuel. Countries such as Eritrea, Niger, Comoros, Haiti andLiberia are particularly affected.

The UN says an emergency aid package should consist of direct food distribution, food subsidies and cash transfers, as well as feedingprogrammes for schoolchildren, pregnant women and the elderly.

Those emergency measures would require 775 million dollars, according to a donor appeal issued by another Rome-based UN agency, the World Food Programme.

Ban said a UN-coordinated task force has identified several recommendations to counter price increases.

These included the distribution of seeds, fertilizers, animal feed and other inputs for small-scale farmers through vouchers or other forms of subsidies. FAO says $1.7 billion in donor aid would be required.

The UN is also expected to try to persuade the United States and other nations to consider phasing out subsidies for food-based biofuels that currently act as incentives for farmers to switch their production away from food.

However, some of the summit’s proceedings risk being overshadowed by controversy around the attendance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe.

Ahmadinejad, speaking on the eve of his departure for Rome, lashed out against the US, saying its “satanic power” faced destruction and reiterated his threats that Israel would be wiped off the world map.

On Tuesday, the Iranian president was scheduled to hold a news conference at FAO’s Rome headquarters at 1400 GMT. Jewish groups and other critics condemned his attendance.

Mugabe, who is in Rome with his wife Grace, has been allowed to circumvent a European Union travel ban on him and about 200 members of his ruling elite, because of a loophole that permits them to attend UN meetings.

Britain and Australia have described Mugabe’s presence in Rome as “obscene.”

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