Global Policy Forum

Development: 'Food Production Must Rise 50 Percent'


By Sabina Zaccaro

Inter Press Service
June 4, 2008

Food production must rise 50 percent by 2030 to meet increasing demand, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told world leaders as they started a summit to deal with food price crisis.

"The world needs to produce more food," he said in his opening speech Tuesday at the World Food Security conference in Rome hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). "While we must respond immediately to high food prices, it is important that our longer-term focus is on improving world security -- and remains so for some years."

Some 40 heads of state or government are attending the three-day meeting to propose political solutions to prevent the highest commodity prices in 30 years worsening the situation of hundreds of millions suffering from chronic hunger.

The UN Secretary General made clear that global economic policies would be at the core of this meeting. "Before this emergency, more than 850 million people in the world were short of food; the World Bank estimates that this figure could rise by a further 100 million," he said. "The poorest of the poor spend two-thirds or more of their income on food; they will be hardest hit."

Ban's call to boost food production was supported by FAO Director General Jaques Diouf, who additionally appealed to world leaders for 30 billion dollars a year to re-launch agriculture and avert future threats of conflict over food. "Today the facts speak for themselves," he said. "Aid to agriculture fell from 8 billion dollars in 1984 to 3.4 billion in 2004, representing a reduction in real terms of 58 percent. The share of agriculture in Official Development Assistance (ODA), he said, fell from 17 percent in 1980 to 3 percent in 2006.

"The structural solution to the problem of food security in the world lies in increasing production and productivity in the low-income, food-deficit countries," Diouf said. But contradictions and distortions at international policy level have a role in the current crisis, he said. "Nobody understands how a carbon market of 64 billion dollars can be created in the developed countries but that no funds can be found to prevent the annual deforestation of 13 million hectares," he said.

Global food prices increased 37 percent last year and another 16 percent in the first quarter of 2008, according to an FAO index. Increasing use of corn for ethanol, growing food demand from Asia, trade restrictions, and poor harvests have been seen as responsible for the price rise.

Among the answers to these underlying issues, the UN Secretary General proposed to expand aid assistance, to boost smallholder farmer food production through the injection of seeds and fertilisers, to eliminate trade and taxation policies that "distort the market", and through a "rapid resolution of the Doha Round."

"The WTO Doha Round of trade negotiations can be part of the medium to long-term response to the food price crisis," Pascal Lamy, Director General of the World Trade Organisation told the assembly Tuesday evening. Through "greater and fairer competition, international trade can help lower prices," he said. "Easier, more open trade, can strengthen the production capacity of developing countries, rendering them less vulnerable." Lamy said he was aware that not everyone shares this view, and that some believe that more open trade can harm domestic production capacity. But the WTO thesis is demonstrated by numbers, Lamy said.

"Looking at the list of the 22 countries that the FAO has identified as the most vulnerable to the food price crisis, we find that some of them are amongst the world's least-trade integrated economies in agriculture." Among these countries, Lamy mentioned Zambia, which imports only 4 percent of its total grain supply, and Cambodia which imports only 5 percent of supply. Lamy's position provoked a sharp reaction among civil society groups, who believe instead that the Doha Round will not solve the global food crisis.

According to a global international network of 237 NGOs, farmer's organisations, trade unions and social movements from over 50 countries, "the answer does not lie in deeper deregulation of food production and trade." These groups think that the Doha Round will only "intensify the crisis by making food prices more volatile, increasing developing countries' dependence on imports, and strengthening the power of multinational agribusiness in food and agricultural markets."

"World leaders attending the summit must take up their own responsibilities, and review those policies that are in contrast with poor people's needs," Marco De Ponte, Secretary General of Action Aid International, an anti-poverty agency, told IPS. De Ponte said wealthy governments must help poor countries "to deal with the challenges posed by WTO, and admit that food aid is not enough to respond to such a global crisis."

What is really needed is to increase investment in agriculture and to boost the reforming process of the agricultural system at a global level, he said. "Because the issue is political, rather than humanitarian."

ActionAid organised a demonstration outside the FAO building, unfurling a 200-metre long banner saying 'Stop Profiting from Hunger -- Right to Food Now!' Civil society groups are looking at the July G8 Summit in Japan (of the eight most industrialised countries, the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Japan and Russia) as another crucial opportunity to bring forward concrete action on aid, food and climate change.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda urged world leaders to release excess stocks of food to ease shortages in poorer countries. He offered more than 300,000 tonnes of imported rice that Japan holds. "I believe that this not only constitutes an emergency response measure towards food shortages, but also serves as a short-term measure to return some degree of equilibrium to the food market," he told the summit. "At the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit to be held next month, taking into account the discussions and outputs of this high-level conference, we will undertake full-fledged discussions on market, trade, development, climate change and energy -- which are indeed the combined factors underlying soaring food prices -- and then translate that into action," he said.

"What we ask of governments is to meet their human rights obligations and to listen to the proposals of the affected people themselves," Sarojeni Rengam, executive director of the Malaysia based Pesticide Action Network told IPS. According to Rengam, the response to the food crisis cannot be "the dangerous intensification of inputs shaped on the green revolution model, that someone is proposing, nor a further liberalisation of trade. Helping small-scale farmers and supporting their agro-ecological methods can provide the only way forward to avert the current food crisis. I fear that this is not discussed enough in that building."

More Information on Social and Economic Policy
More General Analysis on the World Trade Organization
More Information on Hunger and the Globalized System of Trade and Food Production
More Information on International Trade and Development


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