Global Food Crisis Summit: The conference next week in Rome (3-5 June) on world food security, offers a historic chance to re-launch the fight against hunger and poverty and boost agricultural production in developing countries, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Wednesday. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France will be among the European leaders who will be in attendance but despite the global boom in agriculture, all Europe will offer are pieties and some euros for the begging bowl of the developing countries. European politicians dancing to the tune of the powerful farm lobby, will not concede changes in the existing protections from an era of food mountains and wine lakes.
In a key policy document specially prepared for the Summit, the FAO said that the international community should take urgent and concrete actions to address the issues of hunger and malnutrition in the face of soaring food prices, scarce land and water resources, climate change, increased energy needs and population growth.
“The current dramatic world food situation reminds us of the fragility of the balance between global food supplies and the needs of the world’s inhabitants, and of the fact that earlier commitments to accelerate progress towards the eradication of hunger have not been met,” said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.
“Given the seriousness of global food supply and demand imbalances, cereal markets may not regain their stability any time soon. Prices might come down, but they are not likely to reach their previous low levels for several years to come. We hope that world leaders coming to Rome will agree on the urgent measures that are required to boost agricultural production, especially in the most affected countries, and at the same time protect the poor from being adversely affected by high food prices,” he added.
An EU proposal to use unspent EU farm aid to alleviate burdens of rising food prices in developing countries was cold-shouldered by the bloc's agriculture ministers on Tuesday who didn't wish to set a precedent .
"We have to make sure we put agriculture at the top of the international agenda. If there is money available...it might be better to use it for projects structured around several countries," French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier said. "Solutions are needed, but what is needed even more is a structural approach to this issue," echoed Slovenian Agriculture Minister Iztok Jarc who chaired the informal meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers at Brdo pri Kranju in the suburb of Slovenian capital Ljubljana.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel has proposed to use unspent EU subsidies for agriculture to buy seeds and fertilizer for farmers in developing countries.
"We have been looking at a more direct link between EU agriculture and agriculture in developing countries, to help them be able to feed themselves," Fischer Boell said.
The French Minister Barnier proposed last month that farmers in developing countries should not focus on producing cash crops to supply European markets. He advocated the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) model - in effect giving more control to corrupt elites who would have the power to allocate quotas in return for kickbacks.
Barnier's reluctance to provide short-term assistance to farmers in developing countries - preferring a long-term approach - is not surprisingly in contrast to his approach in his own backyard.
"The high diesel price is of concern to everybody in the fishing sector," Barnier said on Tuesday in Slovenia. "We will make a proposal ... I feel a European response is necessary...the current ceiling of national aid should be increased. There are various options that we are discussing -- including direct European intervention."
French fishermen fighting for cheaper fuel have been blockading ports, disrupting traffic on land and sea, and have also blocked the fuel depot of France's largest oil refinery.
Backed by Italy, and possibly Spain, France is now drafting a proposal that would raise the amount of financial aid that a government may grant to its fisheries sector.
On Monday, the Irish Government signalled that it is willing to scuttle the global trade talks if Irish farmer interests are endangered.
On Tuesday the Irish Exporters Association said that service exports not agriculture, are key to Ireland's prosperity.
Irish Services, not Agriculture, are the most critical part of the World Trade Talks for economic and export growth - Irish Exporters Association
There are four ministers in the Irish Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. One of them has full-time responsibility for innovation policy but in truth, in a rational world, there would be only a job for one of them.
Former senior minister Micheál Martin, now Foreign Minister, generally led trade missions abroad. This week a junior minister in the Department, John McGuinness, is leading an Irish Trade Mission to Brazil and Mexico.
Tánaiste and senior minister Mary Coughlan, apparently thought it prudent to avoid visiting a country in search of business when only months ago, she as Minister for Agriculture, was echoing the Irish Farmers' Association call for a complete EU ban on Brazilian beef.
Pandering to the farm lobby may not always be a cost-free option.
The farm lobby is very effective in deploying the Béal Bocht (poor mouth) but the truth is a little more complicated.
Meath farm sells for €13.5 million; Irish farm land most expensive in Europe
Ireland's 40-year bonanza of foreign aid from the European Union will amount to €41 billion by the time we become a net contributor in 2013
Many agricultural commodity markets continue to be tight despite production increases, FAO said, emphasizing that low stock levels are not likely to be replenished quickly. “The possibility of further sharp price hikes and continued volatility as a result of unforeseen events seems to be likely for the next few seasons,” according to the FAO report. “Soaring food prices: facts, perspectives, impacts and actions required.”
Many countries are facing the dual challenge of sharp increases in food and fuel prices threatening macroeconomic stability and overall growth. Poor food buyers in the cities and non-food producers in rural areas who spend a large share of their incomes on food are the most adversely affected.
The report lists 22 countries that are particularly vulnerable due to a combination of high levels of chronic hunger (more than 30 percent undernourishment) and being net importers of both food and fuel. Countries such as Eritrea, Niger, Comoros, Haiti and Liberia are particularly affected.
The report said that increases in domestic prices even by moderate rates (10 or 20 percent) can have immediate negative impacts on poor households that spend a large part of their income on food staples. FAO’s estimate of the number of hungry people in 2002-04 stands at 862 millions, with 830 millions in the developing countries.
| May 27, 2008: At the informal meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers at Brdo pri Kranju, Slovenia, the Ministers discussed new challenges, i.e. adapting European agriculture to climate change, biofuels, environmental protection and risk management in agriculture and food safety. They agreed they had to be more ambitious in the review of the reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP). Specific measures should also be considered, as well as options for providing additional financial resources for their implementation.
With the current situation of high food prices, providing emergency assistance to the most poor and hungry as well as re-launching agriculture and revitalizing rural communities are key elements to reduce hunger and ensure an improved world food situation, FAO said.
Protecting the most vulnerable in rural and urban areas would require targeted direct food distribution, food subsidies and cash transfers as well as nutritional programmes including school feeding. Strengthening social protection is especially important for vulnerable groups, including children, pregnant women and the elderly. WFP (World Food Program) has called for US$ 775 million to finance these emergency activities.
As a short-term response, local food production should be boosted urgently. Measures should include the distribution to small-scale farmers of seeds, fertilizers, animal feed and other inputs through vouchers or smart subsidies. If implemented effectively, such a programme will increase the supply response in poor countries and, thus, improve food availability, increase the income of small producers and may reduce price increases in local markets. FAO has called for US$1.7 billion to provide low income food deficit countries with seeds, fertilizers and other inputs to boost production in low-income and food deficit countries. In December of 2007, the FAO announced the provision by FAO of US$ 17 million from its own resources to kick-start this initiative.
The report stresses that high food prices represent an excellent opportunity for increased investments in agriculture by both the public and private sectors to stimulate production and productivity. It calls for investment into long neglected areas such as agricultural research, extension and infrastructure. Support should focus on agricultural research serving the needs of poor farmers, many of whom farm in increasingly marginal areas; poor farmers should have better access to factors of production, namely land, water and inputs.
The report also notes that unilateral trade policy measures undertaken by countries to ensure domestic food availability can exacerbate price instability on world markets and affect food security in other countries. Policy coordination is important in this respect. Production and trade policies on biofuels may also need to be re-examined in light of their possible effects on international food markets and hence on food security, especially in vulnerable countries. To be successful, decisions made and policies implemented in this area should take into utmost consideration world food security.
“This is a unique moment in history: for the first time in 25 years, a fundamental incentive - high food commodity prices - is in place for stimulating the agricultural sector,” Jacques Diouf said. “Governments, supported by their international partners, must now undertake the necessary public investment and provide a favourable environment for private investments, while at the same time ensuring that the most vulnerable are protected from hunger.”
The FAO says that the June Summit on food security will offer a unique forum for world leaders to adopt the policies, strategies and programmes that are required to overcome the new challenges to world food security. Many Heads of State and Government have already confirmed their participation in the Summit, which will also be attended by the United Nations Secretary-General and the heads of many United Nations organizations and the Bretton Woods institutions - the IMF and World Bank.