NGO coalition calls for SAARC food bank

Kandy (Sri Lanka), July 26:

The number of hungry people in south Asia will rise to over 588 million by 2009, says a coalition of NGOs and academics from the region, due to ‘the failure of SAARC leaders to control rising food prices, protect small farmers, ensure right to and control over land for women, resist genetically modified organisms and stop biofuels’.

The coalition, called Imagine a New South Asia (INSA), released a report on ‘Rising Food Price And Poverty In South Asian Countries: A Call For Action for SAARC Summit’ at its policy forum meet last week, just days ahead of the August 2-3 South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Colombo.

Author of the report and ActionAid Bangladesh’s Head of Food Rights and Emergencies AFM Shahidur Rahman said, “In South Asia, most of the people living on less than a dollar-a-day are landless, particularly women. They have to buy cooking oil, coarse rice and firewood from the market. The prices of these items have gone three times higher in the last six months.”

An estimate by the NGOs says, at an average food prices in south Asia went up by 25 per cent in this period resulting in an additional 140 million poor in the region.

Production of biofuel in the world, cost push in farming and failure from the structurally adjusted agriculture of the region are the three major reasons of the failure to contain price rise.

Chairman of the INSA regional steering committee Qazi Khaliquzzaman Ahmad said, “SAARC

leaders must immediately operationalise a SAARC food bank and establish a SAARC humanitarian emergency response organisation to address food crises and emergencies, a SAARC farmers’ development institution to increase investment for agro products and its marketing, basin-wide regional water management and sharing for economic and environment benefits for all countries and a SAARC poverty monitoring centre to alert, monitor poverty, price hikes and livelihood situations at national and regional levels.”

INSA called on SAARC leaders to have a food reserve of at least two million tonnes of rice and wheat in the proposed food bank. All member countries should contribute to it, the NGO collective said.

John Samuel, ActionAid’s international director for Asia, said, “SAARC leaders must prepare a charter on the Right to Food for a hunger-free South Asia. They also must commit to regenerative sustainable farming to ensure self reliance in the development of agriculture and the achievement of irreversible food sovereignty.”