Billions pledged at food summit, but more needed UN chief says

Pledges of almost three billion dollars of emergency aid were made at a food price crisis summit on Wednesday but UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned up to 20 billion dollars a year would be needed to avoid disaster.

“We simply cannot afford to fail,” the UN secretary general said at the food security summit. “Hundreds of millions of people expect no less.”

The extra resources that might be as required will cost between 15 billion and 20 billion dollars (10-13 billion euros) a year, Ban told a news conference.

New funding totalling some 2.7 billion dollars was announced on the second day of the summit in Rome, where Ban has already demanded a 50 percent increase in food production by 2030.

The UN World Food Programme announced 1.2 billion dollars in new food aid to help “the tens of millions of people … hardest hit by the crisis.”

The Islamic Development Bank would spend 1.5 billion dollars on agriculture in the poorest countries, Food and Agriculture Organization director general Jacques Diouf announced.

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.

Leaders at the summit were finalising an action plan, Ban said, while warning that it will require “substantial and sustained financial and political commitment.”

John Holmes, head of the UN task force on the food crisis, said a “broad consensus” was building around the action plan, which should be completed by the end of this month for presentation at the Group of Eight meeting in Japan.

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 a 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 WFP, the UN agency that delivers emergency food aid.

Humanitarian charity Oxfam spokesman Alexander Woollcombe said that criticising developing countries’ trade barriers distracted from the need for wealthy countries to re-examine their own trade policies.

“Rich countries would do better to focus on fixing their own policies instead of criticising developing country governments,” he told AFP.

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan put his signature Wednesday to a new initiative partnering the three UN food agencies with his Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

“By unifying our efforts we can drastically step up our support for Africa’s smallholder farmers,” said Annan, stressing that the alliance would “focus on the small-scale farmer, not to run them out of business.”

The FAO, the WFP and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday with AGRA, which was set up last year with the help of a 150 million dollar start-up grant from the Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

WFP executive director Josette Sheeran announced the 1.2 billion dollars in new emergency aid. “With soaring food and fuel prices, hunger is on the march and we must act now,” Sheeran said in a statement.

Ban said bilateral and international donors must reverse “years of neglect of the agricultural sector,” 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.”

by Gina Doggett
Wed Jun 4, 11:59 AM ET

Source: AFP

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