World leaders urged to unite in global food crisis

4th June 2008, Comments 0 comments

UN chief stresses the need to lift trade restrictions and tax polices to solve hunger problem at the UN Conference on World Food Security's inaugural ceremony.

4 June 2008

ROME - 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.

Ban 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 Organisation (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.

"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 owing to a combination of high levels of chronic hunger - defined as more than 30 per cent undernourishment - and being net importers of both food and fuel. Countries such as Eritrea, Niger, Comoros, Haiti and Liberia are particularly affected.

The UN says an emergency aid package should consist of direct food distribution, food subsidies and cash transfers, as well as feeding programmes 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 dollars 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.

According to FAO biofuels, or ethanol, accounted for about one third of maize production in the United States and over half of sugarcane production in Brazil and rapeseed production in the European Union.

But in his speech to the summit, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called for the clearing of "smokescreens raised by powerful lobbies who try to blame ethanol production" for the food price hike.

Lula said a combination of factors pushed up prices, including climate change, speculation on financial markets and growing food consumption in developing countries like China, India, Brazil and others.

But above the "maintenance of absurdly protectionist farm policies in rich countries" were to blame, according to the Brazilian president.

The UN Conference on World Food Security is scheduled to run through Thursday
[dpa / Expatica]

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