World leaders meet to address food price crisis

World leaders gathered in Rome on Tuesday for a United Nations summit on food security as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged “hard decisions” and heavy investment in agriculture.

“For years, falling food prices and rising production lulled the world into complacency,” Ban said, adding: “Governments put off hard decisions and overlooked the need to invest in agriculture.”

“Today, we are literally paying the price,” he said on the eve of the three-day Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) summit.

“If not handled properly, this issue could trigger a cascade of other crises — affecting economic growth, social progress and even political security around the world,” Ban warned.

Participants at the High-Level Conference on World Food Security will discuss short-term solutions as well as new strategies to deal with the effects of global warming, growing demand for biofuels and a crumbling agriculture sector in much of the developing world.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said in London that Tokyo would use the outcome of the Rome summit to focus debate at a Group of Eight (G8) summit it is hosting in July.

“This is a multi-faceted problem that calls for multi-faceted response,” Fukuda said. “We would like to build on the outcome of [the Rome] meeting and engage … at the G8 on the various complex factors behind rising food prices” worldwide.

Humanitarian charity Oxfam accused the international community of spending a “pittance” on supporting agriculture in developing countries compared with the huge support given to farmers in rich Western countries.

“World leaders must urgently agree a coordinated global action plan to address the food price crisis,” the group said on Tuesday.

Ahead of the summit, battle lines were drawn over the causes of the crisis.

Oxfam staged a protest on Monday to dramatise the effects of the rising use of biofuels, with three actors dressed as ears of corn being strangled by a petrol pump hose.

But Oxfam stressed that European and North American biofuel policies are only one of several factors causing higher food prices.

Estimates vary on the extent to which demand for biofuels has pushed up food prices.

The International Food Policy Research Institute, based in Washington, estimates that it accounts for 30% of the increase, the International Monetary Fund puts the figure at 15%, while the United States Agriculture Department says it is under 3%.

On Sunday, dozens of NGOs and small farmers’ groups opened an alternative forum to coincide with the FAO summit. — AFP

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