Diverse proposals at "Food Crisis Summit"
2.Diverse proposals at "Food Crisis Summit" - SUNS
NOTE: The US calls for a science based approach to agricultural technologies but, as with so many GM proponents, the claims of its own Agriculture Secretary are utterly fantastical. In Rome he's once again been claiming that GMOs have done a whole series of things for American agriculture that they were never designed to do and which the reports of his own Dept. do not bear out! Call me up in dreamland...
EXTRACT: US Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer downplayed bio-fuels as a factor in the food price crisis... Asked whether he regarded GMOs as a safe technology, Schafer said that the US thinks that GMOs are safe and have increased yields, lowered fertilizer use and provided better water and soil management, and he hoped that other countries that still have some concern will be convinced by science-based efforts. (ITEM 2)
1. Leaders Change the Subject at Food Aid Conference
By ANDREW MARTIN and ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
The New York Times, June 6 2008
ROME - It was supposed to be an emergency conference on food shortages, climate change and energy. At the opening ceremony, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, noted that there were nearly one billion people short of food, and he called upon countries gathered here to act with “a sense of purpose and mission.”
But when the microphone was turned on for the powerful politicians who had flown in from all over the world, they spoke mostly about economic issues in their own countries and political priorities.
The United States’ agriculture secretary, Ed Schafer, talked about the benefits of biofuels and genetically modified crops. Brazil’s president, Luiz InÃ¡cio Lula da Silva, spoke for half an hour about how Brazilian biofuels were superior to American ones. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, talked about the need to inject religion into food politics.
Everyone complained about other people’s protectionism ”” and defended their own.
Food experts on Wednesday, as well as many representatives from poor countries, wondered whether these divided forces could add up to any kind of solution to a global conundrum: how to feed one billion hungry people.
“What is the common denominator here? It is a food crisis,” said Denis Sassou-Nguesso, president of the Congo Republic. “That is the immediate problem for us.”
A “green revolution” about three decades ago brought vastly increased output to agriculture in much of the world, with improved agricultural techniques and fertilizers. But it did little to improve agriculture in some of the poorest parts of the world, particularly Africa, where harvests have remained stagnant under the pressures of neglect, political unrest and, now, climate change.
But in the industrialized world, farming became more of a regulated business. Farm entitlements became so entrenched that repeated efforts at reform, even in the face of soaring crop prices, have fallen flat, as evidenced by the inability to reach agreement on farming disputes at the World Trade Organization.
Against this backdrop, the food emergency has done little to prompt a consensus on a new approach that might make the world agricultural system more responsive to global food demand. There has been plenty of argument since the conference opened Tuesday over whether shortages and high prices were caused by the rush to biofuels, protective tariffs, the soaring price of oil, distorting subsidies or a market failure. But the issues appear too complex, and too heavily freighted with politics, to be addressed soon.
Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank, said money was crucial to solving the short-term need for food aid to feed the world’s hungry. But he said preventing food crises would require more difficult policy changes.
In the meantime, many representatives from poorer countries expressed frustration at the tenor of the meeting. “We believe the problem is much more political than everything else,” said Walter Poveda Ricaurte, agriculture minister of Ecuador. “We have to differentiate between the countries who are really affected by the food crisis and those who are seeing it as an economic opportunity.”
He said that when food prices were low, in recent decades, Ecuador had stopped producing its own wheat, corn and soy ”” favoring cheap imports instead. Now that prices of these commodities have doubled in the past year, the country can no longer afford them, he said.
The conference has raised money for emergency relief. The Islamic Development Bank pledged $1.5 million on Wednesday. Mr. Ban estimated that $15 billion to $20 billion was needed to help resolve the food crisis.
But there was little sign that the economic and political disputes that often took center stage here resulted in new compromises.
Mr. da Silva attacked the “absurdly protectionist farm policies in rich countries,” a clear reference to the United States, which protects its own corn ethanol from competition with Brazilian ethanol, made from sugar cane.
American delegates attacked barriers to trade in poorer countries as well as in the European Union. China, which has not invested heavily in biofuels, said that “grain-based biofuels has driven up grain utilization and has potential to trigger more far reaching problems.”
Officials at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which sponsored the meeting, were sanguine about the results. “Sometimes I think the discussion is not focused on the need of countries and poor people,” said José Maria Sumpsi, assistant director general of the organization. “But you have to take into account that you are hearing the positions of the governments ”” defending their political views ”” which is different from whether they will fund immediate action.”
The conference was preparing to issue its concluding statement on Thursday, and delegates said the wording of the section on biofuels was a point of contention. The United States said only 2 to 3 percent of the global increase in food prices was attributable to competition from biofuels. But other countries put the figure far higher.
A draft copy of the resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, calls for urgent action to address the problems linked to higher food prices, trying to increase food production, ease trade restrictions and increase research in agriculture. It also calls for more research on biofuels, sidestepping what has become the most contentious issue of the conference.
“I doubt there will be a positive agreement on biofuels” from the conference, said Mr. Schafer, the American agriculture secretary, though he indicated that some “acceptable” language would be in the meeting’s final document.
There has also been only limited discussion about developing a new kind of aid program that most experts agree is needed: one that invests in developing agriculture in poor countries and that spends less money in shipping food halfway around the world to feed hungry people.
“The era of food aid is over ”” there is no more sending food from America to Africa,” Kofi Annan, former United Nations secretary general, said in an interview. Instead, he said, donors need to do more to improve agricultural practices in Africa and Asia, with donations of tools, fertilizers, seeds, silos and knowledge.
Officials from many major donor countries said they had been rethinking food aid policies ”” if only because food prices were now so high and transport was becoming increasingly costly.
Henrietta H. Fore, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, said that transport costs were now soaking up 50 percent of its food aid money, and that the rising prices of commodities like oil were “eating away at our purchasing power.”
In the past, the program was heavily weighted toward sending food abroad, and it required that its aid be purchased in the United States and shipped on American vessels.
She said that in a bill now before Congress, 25 percent of food in a new $350 million aid package could be purchased overseas. But that has not been approved yet.
2. Re: Diverse proposals at "Food Crisis Summit"
THIRD WORLD NETWORK INFORMATION SERVICE ON SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
Dear friends and colleagues,
Please find below a report of the discussions of the FAO High Level Conference on World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy, currently being held in Rome (3-5 June 2008).
It was published in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) #6489 on Thursday, 5 June 2008 and is reproduced here with permission.
With best wishes,
Lim Li Ching
Third World Network
Websites: www.twnside.org.sg, www.biosafety-info.net
Development: Diverse proposals by political leaders at "Food Crisis Summit"
Rome, 3 Jun (Neth Dano) -- The three-day food summit being held here at the FAO headquarters has seen differences in views among political leaders on which factors are more responsible for the crisis of soaring food prices, and on the solutions.
The High-Level Conference on World Food Security: The Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy, dubbed the "Food Security Summit", opened here on 3 June with various Heads of State and Government advancing diverse proposals on how to solve the crisis. More than 30 Heads of State are participating, as well as scores of Ministers among l4,400 delegates from 183 countries.
The Conference was originally planned by the FAO months ago as a technical meeting on agriculture, climate change and bio-fuels. But the food price crisis was added to the agenda and it was raised to the level of a summit in the midst of soaring food prices and social unrest across the world in the past few months. Prices of basic foodstuff, especially cereals such as rice, corn and wheat, have soared by as much as 130% over levels of a few years ago, sparking food riots in some 22 countries worldwide.
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that the international community should respond to the food crisis through short-term emergency responses such as food aid and providing social safety nets to the poorest who cannot afford to buy food, as well as through long-term solutions that build the capacity of small farmers to increase food production. He said that these approaches should be complementary and that the short-term measures should not compromise the long-term solutions to the problem.
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf criticized the inaction of the governments following the 1996 food summit. Agricultural aid fell in real terms by 54% from $8 to $3.4 billion between 1980 and 2005.
Despite agricultural plans in many developing countries and regional organizations, and efforts by the FAO to mobilize funds for inputs and production, these were "all in vain" as the funds were not forthcoming. He said the structural solution for food security lies in increasing production in low-income food-deficit countries.
He attacked several contradictions: how a carbon market of $64 billion can be created in developed countries but no funds are given to prevent deforestation of 13 million hectares a year; how $11-12 billion in subsidies were given in 2006 coupled with protective tariffs to divert 100 million tonnes of cereals from human consumption to satisfy a thirst for fuel for vehicles.
He said that nobody understands how the OECD countries distort world markets with $372 billion in 2006 on support for their agriculture, and that in a single country, food wastage amounts to $100 billion annually, and excess consumption by the world's obese costs $20 billion annually, while the world spent $1,200 billion on arms purchase in 2002.
"How can we explain that it was not possible to find $30 billion a year to enable 862 [million] hungry people to enjoy the right to food?" he asked, saying that this is the order of resources needed to lay to rest the spectre of conflicts over food that loom over the horizon. Food insecurity is a political problem involving a question of priority and choices made by governments on resource allocation.
Many heads of state mentioned several similar factors that caused the crisis, including the steep oil price increase that affected the costs of transportation and synthetic fertilizers, financial speculation in the commodities market, low food stocks, drought and pest/disease infestations, and effects of climate change.
The subject of bio-fuels, and the extent to which its production and growth caused the crisis by switching the use of crops from food to fuel, was the most controversial issue. A number of leaders pointed to this as a contributing factor.
Several countries, including Egypt, India and Madagascar warned against the expansion of wrong bio-fuels, while Brazil's leader gave a lengthy defence of his country's ethanol and the United States downplayed the role of bio-fuels in the food-price inflation.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called for the establishment of an international code of conduct to slow down bio-fuel production and to assess its environmental and social dimensions. The President of Slovenia, Danilo Turk, reiterated the stand of the European Union for the adoption of sustainability criteria on bio-fuel production and called for the swift transition to the so-called "second generation bio-fuels" that do not compete with food production.
Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva strongly contested the criticisms directed on bio-fuels as a reason behind food price increases. He said that "ethanol is not the villain" and strongly criticized those governments that blamed ethanol production as a cause of the food price crisis, referring to them as "fingers soiled with oil and coal" and "the same governments that extend trade-distorting subsidies".
President Lula claimed that the more than 30 years' of experience of Brazil in ethanol production has proven that it could increase rural livelihoods and the income of farmers. He said that ethanol production in Brazil does not compete with food production, since sugarcane cultivation only takes up around 1% of the country's total arable land, with half of that devoted for ethanol production.
He added that ethanol production in Brazil does not encroach on the Amazon where only 21,000 hectares are planted with sugarcane in areas that are formerly degraded pasture-lands. He said that not all ethanol are equal and that he is against using corn for ethanol production, likening corn ethanol (which is mainly produced in the United States) to "bad cholesterol fattened up by subsidies" and competing directly with food.
He encouraged other developing countries to study the feasibility of ethanol production, invest in research, and make their own decisions on which crops are appropriate in their specific conditions.
The President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, stressed that the food crisis is both a problem of production and distribution. She spoke of the structural roots of the crisis - the protectionist policies of developed countries and the imposition of policies of the international financial institutions that prevented developing countries from producing food for themselves, citing the case of Haiti.
She also pointed to the oligopoly of the food systems and control over patents by multinational corporations that aggravate the problem, along with speculative investments in the global market. President Fernandez called for increased investments in food production by directing resources to developing countries that have the capacity and technology to help less-capable countries to develop their own agriculture.
Various political leaders presented diverse proposals to address the food price crisis.
President Mubarak (whose country was one of those experiencing food riots) appealed for a global partnership through an International Emergency Dialogue, where food exporters and importers can work out an international strategy to solve the food crisis in the short and long terms, discuss means to increase investments in agriculture, promote scientific research to develop new seeds, and conduct collaborative studies on the effects of genetically modified seeds on human, plant and animal health.
Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said that his country has released tons of rice into the global market to help cool the pressure on the short supply, and urged other developed and net food producers to do the same. He added that governments need to demonstrate strong political will to monitor and address market speculation in the food market.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse proposed that the FAO should develop mechanisms for regional food buffer stocks which could be managed by regional agencies but funded internationally, to help cushion countries from fluctuations in prices and supply. He called for the establishment of a Global Food Crisis Fund with contributions from governments and the business sector, and a Regional Food Security Fund under the UN to assist in times of food crisis.
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the old strategy of providing food at low cost has failed, and that the future strategy involves the development of local farming which is the only sustainable and responsible solution to the current food crisis. He said that the world should help the poorest countries to equip themselves with modern farming systems to produce food for themselves.
He stressed that local agriculture and support for local production, focussing more in developing countries, is an absolute priority.
He proposed a global partnership for food and agriculture, comprised of three pillars - (1) an International Group on Food Security under the UN to coordinate policies and activities of governments and different sectors towards a global strategy for food security; (2) the coordination of international scientists on food and agriculture, similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to provide objective analysis of the problems and the issues; (3) the scaling up of financing to combat extreme food emergencies.
Sarkozy announced that France would allocate Euro 1 billion in the next five years to develop agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. He called on the use of sovereign funds for investments in agriculture in developing countries, and supported the establishment of a Global Food Security Facility to be hosted by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to make funds for agricultural development and food production available and easily accessible for developing countries.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposed the formation of an independent, powerful body to regulate the food market and address related issues in production and consumption patterns.
Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade called on the reallocation of FAO's annual budget of $800 million directly to developing countries, particularly, African countries experiencing food problems, to develop their own agriculture without depending on others. He cited the report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) which pointed out the fundamental problems in the current agricultural model and the institutions that lead it such as the FAO.
He said that the FAO should stop sending experts to Africa and let Africans tackle their own problems since they know what they want do. President Wade urged the FAO to hold regional meetings where African countries will be asked on what they want to rather than being told on what to do.
Indian Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar refuted ideas that rising food prices were caused by higher consumption in emerging economies, citing FAO data. He said that additional demand for maize and rapeseed as feed stock for ethanol and bio-diesel production and high energy and other input costs have had the strongest impact on prices.
He proposed a more in-depth study of the effect of bio-fuels on food grain prices. He cited a study indicating that converting all the world's grains to ethanol may yield only 11% of total world oil demand. "Simply put, even if we decided to convert all the world's grain to motor fuel, we will still need a lot of fossil fuel and will not have anything left to eat" he said.
"Given this scenario, the diversion of land which grows cereal for human consumption into production for bio-fuels is likely to be self-defeating. Conversion of food grains and edible oil seeds for producing bio-fuel, prima facie, is fraught with food security concerns as is evident already." He added that India's policy is for using non-cereal biomass, crop residues and cultivating jatropha on degraded land for bio-fuel production.
At a press conference, US Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer downplayed bio-fuels as a factor in the food price crisis. His department's projections forecast an over 43% increase in food price inflation globally. Of that, it estimated that 2% to 3% of that price increase is driven by bio-fuels. He said that the two main causes were energy and increase in food consumption around the world which uses up food stocks.
He asked all countries to allow the free flow of food and safe food-producing technologies. Asked whether he regarded GMOs as a safe technology, Schafer said that the US thinks that GMOs are safe and have increased yields, lowered fertilizer use and provided better water and soil management, and he hoped that other countries that still have some concern will be convinced by science-based efforts.
Madagascar President Marc Ravalomana said "we can and should do better in bio-energy. We have to be very careful not to replace food plantations with bio-energy plantations." The underlying problem is the large extent of dependency on international markets, and thus on world prices, which could be affected by cyclones, hedge funds, and wars. "Our main challenge is to increase our production. We have to find a way to become net exporters instead of net importers of food products."
He recalled that 25 years ago, Africa had a surplus of exports in cereals, rice, soy beans and other food products. "Over the years we increasingly shifted towards imports of these products. The gap between exports and imports became ever widening. During the 1960s, Madagascar was a rice exporting country. Today, we are not."
One main reason, he said, was that industrialized countries subsidise their exports. "We just can't compete in the world market. And even in our own markets, national producers are not able to meet the challenges."
Another factor was the shift in national priorities away from agriculture to industry, with the stress on foreign investment, and free trade zones, a strategy that was strongly encouraged by international donors. "They were not something we came up with on our own. Donor programmes were rarely if ever focused on rural areas."
Finally, no one really cared about farmers, their legal situation or security, their need for access to credit and markets, their lack of access to agricultural infrastructure like silos and cold storage facilities.
He gave seven proposals, including better training for farmers, using better seeds without becoming dependent on international seed producers, the use of environmentally-friendly fertilizers, improved storage and transport facilities, better standards to meet international standards, and new international partnerships.