At the Rome summit on the global food crisis:
Time for talk over - Action needed
3 June 2008, Rome - Noting that the time for talk was over and that action was urgently needed, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf today appealed to world leaders for US$30 billion a year to re-launch agriculture and avert future threats of conflicts over food.
In an impassioned speech at the opening of the Rome Summit called to de-fuse the current world food crisis, Dr Diouf noted that in 2006 the world spent US$1 200 billion on arms while food wasted in a single country could cost US$100 billion and excess consumption by the world’s obese amounted to US$20 billion.
“Against that backdrop, how can we explain to people of good sense and good faith that it was not possible to find US$30 billion a year to enable 862 million hungry people to enjoy the most fundamental of human rights: the right to food and thus the right to life?” Dr Diouf asked.
“It is resources of this order of magnitude that would make it possible definitely to lay to rest the specter of conflicts over food that are looming on the horizon,” he added.
Increased production in poor countries
“The structural solution to the problem of food security in the world lies in increasing production and productivity in the low-income, food-deficit countries,” he declared.
This called for “innovative and imaginative solutions”, including “partnership agreements ... between countries that have financial resources, management capabilities and technologies and countries that have land, water and human resources”.
The current world food crisis had already had "tragic political and social consequences in different countries” and could further “endanger world peace and security”, Dr Diouf said.
But the crisis was in essence a “chronicle of disaster foretold”, he noted. Despite the World Food Summit’s solemn pledge in 1996 to halve world food hunger by 2015, resources to finance agricultural programmes in developing countries had not only failed to rise but decreased significantly since then.
Some US$24 billion would have been needed to fund an anti-hunger programme prepared for the second World Food Summit held in 2002, Dr Diouf recalled.
“In cooperation with FAO, the developing countries did in fact prepare policies, strategies and programmes that, if they had received appropriate funding, would have assured world food security,” he said.
But, he continued, “today the facts speak for themselves: from 1980 to 2005 aid to agriculture fell from US$8 billion ( 2004 basis) in 1984 to US$3.4 billion in 2004, representing a reduction in real terms of 58 percent”.
Agriculture’s share of Official Development Assistance (ODA) fell from 17 percent in 1980 to 3 percent in 2006, he also noted.
“Regrettably the international community only reacts when the media beam the distressing spectacle of world suffering into the homes of the wealthy countries,” Dr Diouf commented.
Social, political unrest
The Director-General said he had alerted public opinion as far back as last September to the risks of social and political unrest due to hunger and that in December he had appealed for US$1.7 billion to help overcome the crisis by facilitating the crisis by facilitating farmers'access to seeds, fertilizer, animal feed and other inputs.
But the appeal had generally fallen on deaf ears, despite broad press coverage and correspondence with Member Nations and financial institutions. “It was only when the destitute and those excluded from the abundant tables of the rich took to the streets to voice their discontent and despair that the first reactions in support of food aid began to emerge,” Dr Diouf said.
“Important today is to realize that the time for talking is long past,” he stressed. “Now is the time for action”.
Today there were 862 million people in the world without adequate access to food, the Director-General said. But the current food crisis went beyond the traditional humanitarian dimension because it also affected developed countries, where it fuelled inflation.
“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 futures markets will place the world in a dangerous situation,” Dr Diouf warned.
Sustainable and viable global solutions were needed to narrow the gap between supply and demand, he said. Otherwise “whatever the extent of their financial reserves, some countries might not find food to buy”.
The Director-General noted that contradictions and distortions at international policy level had contributed to the current crisis.
“Nobody understands how a carbon market of US$64 billion can be created in the developed countries but that no funds can be found to prevent the annual deforestation of 13 million hectares,” he said.
Food versus fuel
Also incomprehensible was the fact that subsidies worth US$11-12 billion in 2006 were used to divert 100 million tonnes of cereals from human consumption “mostly to satisfy a thirst for fuels for vehicles”.
Inexplicable too was that in a time of globalization there has been no significant investment in the prevention of a long list of major trans-boundary animal diseases, starting with Newcastle and foot-and-mouth diseases.
But the basic contradiction lay in the fact that OECD countries were distorting world markets, spending US$372 billion in 2006 alone to support their agriculture.
“The problem of food insecurity is a political one, “Dr Diouf concluded. “It is a question of priorities in the face of the most fundamental of human needs. And it those choices made by Governments that determine the allocation of resources.”