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Issue #1437      25 November 2009

World Food Summit on Food Security

Rich nations turn backs on one billion hungry

The refusal of the rich nations to commit to firm targets and make the required financial commitments at the World Food Summit held in Rome from November 16-18 has strong parallels with the recent climate change negotiations in Barcelona (see Guardian 18-11-2009 – Barcelona climate change negotiations A matter of life & death. At both conferences the industrialised nations hindered progress and undermined the authority and role of the United Nations.

IMF HQ

World Bank HQ –
In two soulless buildings in Washington DC, tens of thousands of grey soulless economists in grey suits on mega-salaries (no doubt left untouched throughout the financial crisis) will be left to make all the decisions regarding food security for the world's one billion chronically hungry people.

The Rome summit, held under the auspices of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO), failed to establish a target for eradicating hunger or to make a firm commitment in dollars on the urgently required funds for agricultural aid, rejecting specific proposals from the FAO’s director general.

The ETC Group* summed it up: “The declaration coming out of the World Food Summit for Food Security in Rome is even worse than the ‘shameful’ document adopted by world leaders in 1996, so famously criticised by Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Governments won’t promise anything to anybody. The only issue really being debated in Rome is whether control of the UN’s Department of Agriculture will be wrested from the UN’s Rome-based agencies and surrendered to an amorphous, G8 conjured, public-private compact called the Global Partnership for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition. If the Partnership prevails, national sovereignty fails, and civil society’s hopes for Food Sovereignty will suffer.”

Most nations were represented by their presidents, prime ministers or deputy leaders, but the leaders of the rich nations snubbed the conference. The one exception was a short appearance by Italy’s Berlusconi, whose office was a short drive away. The US was represented by someone from USAID and Australia sent along Tony Burke, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Undermining the UN

In Barcelona the aim of the industrialised nations was to put the G20 in charge, and at the FAO summit it was, as pointed out by the ETC Group, to shift the decision-making to the G8’s (the group of eight richest nations) Global Partnership and other organisations such as the World Bank where the voices of the majority of (poor) nations are either not heard or not listened to. The G8’s priorities are not based on guaranteeing the world’s poor eat but on ensuring their corporate masters are not starved of their sacred profits.

“To carbon traders, agriculture is a money-maker. To food negotiators, it is a billion people hungry with more on the way due to global warming. The food/climate summitry obscures a critical battle over the future governance of global food and agricultural institutions,” the ETC Group said.

FAO director general Jacques Diouf had proposed the year 2025 as the target date to eradicate hunger. He also called for a commitment of US$44 billion per annum in aid for agriculture, primarily to enable small-holder farmers in developing countries to feed themselves. As well as needing funds for such basics as irrigation systems, modern machinery, seeds, fertilizers and rural infrastructure, there is the additional burden of adapting to climate change which is already hitting the poorest countries the hardest.

Without such funding it will also be impossible to boost global food production by 70 percent by 2050 – the amount required to meet the extra demands of an increase in the world’s population to an estimated 9.1 billion by then.

“It is a small amount if we consider the US$365 billion of agriculture producer support in OECD countries in 2007, and if we consider the US$1,340 billion of military expenditures by the world in the same year”, Diouf said.

A G8’s summit last July dealing with a number of issues, launched an initiative on food safety and security, committing the totally inadequate amount of US$20 billion over three years. The G8 summit was a smaller, select gathering of relatively rich countries including Australia.

Australia, in its contribution to the FAO Summit ignored the propositions for concrete commitments, instead getting behind the US in its attempts to bypass the authority of the UN and its international bodies. It promoted the undemocratic G8 as the way forward to solving hunger in much the same way as it promoted the equally undemocratic G20 at the climate change conference in Barcelona.

Urgent action required

The world’s hungry now stands at over one billion, an alarming figure requiring urgent action. The 1996 Food Summit, when the world’s hungry stood at 825 million, set a target of halving hunger by 2015. The prospects of achieving this look even slimmer following the Rome meeting.

The Rome Summit adopted a declaration of fine-sounding generalities: “… we agree to undertake all necessary actions required at national, regional and global levels and by all States and Governments to halt immediately the increase in – and to significantly reduce – the number of people suffering from hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity…. We commit to take action towards sustainably eradicating hunger at the earliest possible date.

“We are alarmed that the number of people suffering from hunger and poverty now exceeds one billion. This is an unacceptable blight on the lives, livelihoods and dignity of one-sixth of the world’s population….” And so the declaration continued, avoiding the concrete commitments required for agricultural aid.

The situation is an indictment on industrialised nations who first as colonisers, then through such outfits as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, their structural adjustment programs and unfair terms of trade have destroyed centuries of sustainable agricultural practices and led to today’s global food crisis.

Food is a basic human right. China reported on the many measures its socialist government and people have taken to feed its population and to assist other developing nations. It cannot do it all on its own.

Failure on the part of rich countries to provide the necessary agricultural aid, sky high rises in food prices in 207-08 due in part to market speculation, and the diversion of farming land from food to biofuel crops only serve to deepen the crisis. The potential exists to feed the world’s population now, but the political will by those with the means and power is lacking.

“Hunger is the most cruel and concrete sign of poverty. Opulence and waste are no longer acceptable when the tragedy of hunger is assuming even greater proportions,” Pope Benedict XVI told the Summit, calling for international action to eliminate hunger.

The one billion hungry, the hundreds of thousands who die every year of starvation, are victims of capitalism’s economic, food and climate change crises. As with climate change, capitalism has yet again in Rome proved incapable of taking the action required to save the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

* The ETC is an NGO which researches and lobbies on global socioeconomic and ecological issues. www.etcgroup.org

For a copy of the declaration and to read or listen to speeches at the Summit, visit www.fao.org

More reports on the Summit can be found at: www.twnside.org.sg and www.ipsnews.net.

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