Rome Food Security Summit

Hungry eyes look to Rome for answers

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food security, 2007–2008 world food price crisis

As world leaders gather in Rome for the first day of talks on food
price escalation and, with luck, to settle on a common strategy to
deal with the crisis, the FAO has put a price on eradicating
hunger: $30bn.

In his opening presentation, FAO director general Jacques Diouf pointed out that, in 2006, the total amount spent by nations on arms was $1200 bn. Just one country could waste as much as $100bn, and excess consumption contributing to global obesity amounted to $20bn. On the other hand, just $30bn a year would be needed to secure access to food for the world's 862 million hungry people. "It is resources of this order that would make it possible definitely to lay to rest the spectre of conflicts over food that are looming on the horizon,"​ said Diouf. Time for action ​ While a flurry of reports and advisories have made their way into the public domain in the run-up to this week's summit - and have doubtless proved useful in preparing policy positions - the UN's view is that the time for talk is over. Now is the time for action, and for "ending contradictions and distortions at an international policy level".​ The basic contraction is that OECD countries are distorting world markets by spending US$372bn in 2006 alone to support their own agriculture - and subsidies of $11-12bn to divert 100m tonnes of cereals from human consumption to biofuels certainly does not help, in the FAO's view. But this focus is severely misplaced, since solving the structural problem at the heart of food security is a matter of increasing production and productivity in low-income, food-deficit problems. This requires "innovative and imaginative solutions"​, such as partnerships between countries that have money, management capabilities and technologies at their disposal, and those that have land, water and human resources. However richer nations have already shown unwilling to put their money where their mouths are. Diouf said that, following the 2002 World Food Summit, $24bn would have been needed to fund an anti-hunger programme. In preparation for receiving aid of that level, developing countries went ahead and, in collaboration with the FAO, actually developed policies, strategies and programmes that would have ensures better food security. Unfortunately, however, hopes have been squashed as aid to agriculture, actually fell between 1980 and 2004 from $8bn to $3.4bn, and agriculture's share of Official Development Assistance fell from 17 per cent in 1980 to three per cent in 2006. Paying attention to the problem ​ Diouf said that he was pointing out the impeding food crisis last September, and in December called for $1.7bn to help avert crisis by providing better resources for farmers. However his warnings fell largely on deaf ears, until political uprisings in some of the world's hardest hit countries started grabbing headlines that food aid started to trickle through. Now, however, it's not just a matter of hunger in developing countries. If sustainable and viable global solutions are not forthcoming to narrow the gap between supply and demand, "whatever the extent of their financial reserves, some countries might not find food to buy",​ said Diouf. "If we do not urgently take the courageous decisions that are required in the present circumstances, the restrictive measures taken by producing countries to meet the needs of their populations, the impact of climate change and speculation on the futures markets will place the world in a dangerous situation."The summit agenda ​ The meeting comprises two segments running simultaneously throughout the three days: the High-Level Segment and the Committee of the Whole. The High-Level Segment will hear statements from the heads of governments and delegations, while the Committee of the Whole will focus on:

  • High food prices: causes, consequences and possible solutions

  • Climate change and food security

  • Transboundary pests and diseases

  • Bioenergy and food security

Related topics: Market Trends

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