/ 4 June 2008

Food price crisis: ‘We cannot afford to fail’

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon warned on Wednesday that failure was not an option in addressing the global food price crisis, and said an extra $15-billion to $20-billion per year would be needed to help avoid disaster.

”We simply cannot afford to fail,” the UN secretary general told a news conference at the UN Food and Agriculture (FAO) summit on food security. ”Hundreds of millions of people expect no less.”

Food prices have doubled in three years, according to the World Bank, sparking riots in Egypt and Haiti and in many African nations. Brazil, Vietnam, India and Egypt have all imposed food-export restrictions.

Participants in the high-profile summit are finalising a Comprehensive Framework for Action to address the crisis, Ban said, noting that its implementation will require ”substantial and sustained financial and political commitment”.

World Bank president Robert Zoellick called for the lifting of trade barriers that contribute to food price inflation.

”We need an international call to remove export bans and restrictions,” Zoellick told the news conference. ”These controls encourage hoarding drive up prices and hurt the poorest people around the world, who are struggling to feed themselves,” he said.

Trade barriers ”must be lifted at the minimum for humanitarian food purchases and transportation by the WFP”, he said, referring to the World Food Programme, the UN agency that delivers emergency food aid.

”They should be lifted or at least eased for shipments to less developed and fragile countries,” Zoellick said, urging that ”the immediate requirements of 20 of the most vulnerable countries [be met] by the time of the Group of Eight [G8] summit in early July”.

The plight of Africa, where food insecurity is the most prevalent, will be high on the agenda of the G8 summit to take place in Toyako, Japan, from July 7 to 9.

”We need to get seeds, fertilisers and inputs to those developing countries, where smallholder farmers can expand production this season,” Zoellick said.

Also on Wednesday, the WFP announced $1,2-billion in new food aid to help ”the tens of millions of people … hardest hit by the crisis”.

”With soaring food and fuel prices, hunger is on the march and we must act now,” said WFP executive director Josette Sheeran in a statement.

The UN agency is tripling the number of people who receive food in Haiti, doubling those who will receive food in Afghanistan and delivering more critical food assistance to people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, it said.

FAO director general Jacques Diouf announced that the Islamic Development Bank would spend $1,5-billion to aid the agricultural sector in the poorest countries.

Bilateral and international donors must reverse ”years of neglect of the agricultural sector”, Ban said, calling for ”sustained, intelligent” investment.

”We must make the international trade system work more effectively to make food available at reasonable prices,” he added.

In the immediate term ”we must find a way to significantly boost the harvest in the next year”, Ban said.

”The enemy is hunger,” the UN chief said, adding: ”Hunger degrades everything we have been fighting for.”

The summit was to break out into roundtables on the crucial issues of food price inflation, global warming and biofuels, as well as cross-border pests and diseases. — AFP