Agriculture renaissance must to fight food crisis: UN

New York, May 25:

With food and energy prices already spiralling upwards, the UN fears a defeat of its plans to eliminate poverty and hunger. One solution is an agricultural renaissance that includes steering farm subsidies from developed countries to poorer nations.

Japan’s donation of $47.8 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) Friday to alleviate severe food shortages in Africa, Asia and the Middle East will not be the last generosity from rich countries.

Other nations and the World Bank have begun sending out big cheques, but any global solution to fill hungry stomachs, or prevent social unrest, is still beyond reach.

Rich oil-exporting Saudi Arabia, which reaps huge profits from high gasoline prices, gave $500 million to WFP, prompting a thank-you note from the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The UN Economic and Social Council, known as Ecosoc, ended this week a series of meetings to formulate a solution to the food crisis before the world governments meet in Rome June 3-5 for the first debate on the food crisis.

In July, the world’s eight most industrialised nations will meet in Japan and in September at

a special UN General Assembly session to discuss the food crisis.

Ecosoc, however, came out with a seemingly concrete proposal to a complex problem and

it called for an urgent action when governments meet in Rome.

“While we must cope with this situation, we must also put in place policies that can turn the threatening situation into an agricultural renaissance,” said Leo Merores of Haiti, who chaired the Ecosoc meetings.

Merores’ impoverished Haiti has seen the first bloody food riots this past spring in Port-au-Prince which killed several people, including a Nigerian UN peacekeeper, who was not involved in the protests. Rich countries, while distributing cheques to the poor, may have to curtail subsidies to their own agriculture and farms which the UN said amounted to a total of $273 billion in 2005. The subsidies in developed countries have undermined farmers in poor countries.

Ecosoc also urged a serious rethinking of bio-fuel policies being promoted in some countries in order not to jeopardise food security in poor countries.

Japan has set a generous example before it hosts the G8 meeting, providing $47.8 million to WFP, some 85 per cent of which will go to 10 African countries where the food crisis has been most severe. One of them is Burundi, where 90 per cent of the 7.5 million population live on less than $2 a day.

Japan’s Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda intended to raise the food issue at the G8 meeting. In Asia, meat prices have risen 60 per cent in Bangladesh, 45 per cent in Cambodia and

30 per cent in the Philippines. The price of rice, the major food in Asia, have risen throughout the Asian continent, triggering hoarding in some places. Ecosoc said funding pledges to help alleviate the food crisis should be delivered urgently.

It called on UN members to show the political will and flexibility to work out a new trade regime favouring food security.