|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-second General Assembly
114th Meeting (AM)
raise investment in agriculture or face political unrest, international community
urged as General Assembly concludes debate on global food, energy crises
The international community must urgently increase its investment in agriculture if it was to tackle food shortages and avert political unrest in hard-hit countries, speakers warned today as the General Assembly heard from the remaining delegates in its debate on the global food and energy crises, which began on Friday (see Press Release GA/10729 for more details).
In light of rising food costs -- exacerbated by the soaring price of fuel -- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently called for the creation of a Global Partnership for Food involving the active participation of Governments and guided by a Comprehensive Framework for Action developed by the High-Level Task Force on Food Security. The Framework, the subject of Friday’s day-long debate, comprises a menu of actions aimed at building long-term global food security, especially for vulnerable populations.
Voicing a sentiment echoed by most speakers, the representative of the Congo noted today that acute food shortages could deal a fatal blow to fragile economies. It was thought that about $30 billion would be needed annually to fight the food crisis, indicating that organizations like the World Food Programme (WFP) would need even more financial support to carry out its mandate. Similarly, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) should step up their ability to make agricultural loans to farm-based economies, in addition to providing developing countries with emergency assistance when needed. So far, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Japan and nations of the European Union had been helpful in making hundreds of millions of dollars available for those purposes.
Cape Verde’s representative stressed the crucial importance of mustering political will to implement the Comprehensive Framework for Action, pointing out that among the priorities highlighted in that document was the need to guarantee direct investment in developing-world agricultural sectors, especially in Africa. Other measures that could help boost food production in the developing world included a successful conclusion to the Doha Round of World Trade Organization trade negotiations, which had the potential to bring about equitable trade and reform of the global financial architecture -- thus ensuring that farmers in developing countries had the financial means to grow food and bring their goods to market.
The representative of the Russian Federation emphasized the negative role of the sharp and subsidized shift to the production of biofuels from food crops in contributing to the food shortages being experienced around the world. The international community’s response to the global food crisis should proceed on the humanitarian track, which was focused on providing financial assistance to poorer countries, while also devoting energy to improving farming techniques. That included the possibility of embracing new technologies such as the genetic modification of farm produce.
A few speakers also stressed the need for greater adherence to international instruments aimed at curbing the emission of greenhouse gases, such as the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Syria’s representative pointed out that climatic catastrophes affecting food production -- such as drought, desertification, frost and lack of water -- could be traced directly to pollution.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Libya, Kazakhstan and Qatar.
The Permanent Observer for the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization also addressed the Assembly.
The General Assembly met this morning to continue its meeting on the global food and energy crises as part of its consideration of the outcomes of major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields.
LUC-JOSEPH OKIO (Congo), aligning himself with statements made last week on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and the African Union, said rising food and energy prices could deal a fatal blow to fragile economies. They were different from previous crises in that they were brought about by several factors: climate change, the growth of a biofuels market, persistent protectionism and agricultural subsidies, rising oil prices and demographic pressures. Solving the crises required a holistic approach and the United Nations deserved to be commended for seeking to take those varied aspects into account, while also taking account of the specific needs and circumstances of individual nations.
He noted that other organizations had also adopted initiatives aimed at eradicating hunger and poverty: last month the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) had concluded an action plan dedicated to agricultural development, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in Rome. The final declaration of the Rome Conference urged the international community, particularly the Group of Eight (G-8) countries, to support developing countries in withstanding price shocks.
It was thought that about $30 billion per year would be needed to fight the food crisis alone, he said, pointing out that there was not enough food aid, and that organizations like WFP must also be given support. Similarly, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) must be allowed to increase their ability to make agricultural loans to farm-based economies and to be able to provide developing countries with emergency assistance when needed. So far, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Japan and nations of the European Union had been especially helpful in making hundreds of millions of dollars available for those purposes.
With regard to biofuels, he said his country favoured more fairness in the balance between crops grown for fuel and those grown for food. The Government of the Congo wished to reserve its right to ensure that the impact of international agreements on biofuels did not affect the long-term interests of individual countries. There was a need to restore agriculture to its priority position in developing countries, and the United Nations should demand that wealthy countries respect their development commitments and improve implementation of various action plans relating to development.
ANTONIO PEDRO MONTEIRO LIMA (Cape Verde), also supporting the Group of 77 and the African Group said that due to the effects of climate change, floods, deforestation, the use of farmland for biofuels production, the scarcity of water and rising oil prices, the global food supply could not keep pace with the growing overpopulation. The global food and energy crises, as well as climate change, were common challenges, particularly to nations living in extreme vulnerability. Global solutions were required to meet the concerns of all nations and peoples. Permanent solutions based on defensive actions did not correspond to the magnitude of the problem. Decisive action was needed.
He stressed the crucial importance of strengthening political will to ensure implementation of the actions contained in the Comprehensive Framework for Action at all levels as swiftly as possible, taking into account the specificities of all countries. Financial support was needed to allow developing countries to implement those actions. Among the priorities was the need to guarantee direct investment in developing-world agricultural sectors, especially in Africa. Among other urgent needs were a substantial increase in the quantity and quality of official development assistance, technology transfer, including clean technologies, and investment in infrastructure. Equitable trade, a successful conclusion to the Doha Round and the elimination of the external debt of poor countries, and reform of the global financial architecture were also necessary actions.
Noting that his country depended heavily on imported oil and food, and that it felt the effects of climate change, he said that Cape Verde’s economy was also vulnerable to external shocks. To minimize the impact of rising prices of agricultural commodities and oil, the Government had taken compensatory measures, despite its financial difficulties. Vulnerability could overshadow the country’s progress, despite its having graduated into the ranks of middle-income nations. Because of the seriousness of the current crises, Cape Verde agreed that the sixty-third session of the General Assembly should be organized around the issue of food security.
JORGE URBINA ORTEGA (Costa Rica), aligning himself with the Central American Integration System and the Group of 77 and China, said the food and oil crises should compel the international community to take innovative steps towards easing the burden being felt all around the world. Those steps should “bear the stamp of solidarity”; no previous food shortage had been so acute nor its manifestations so global. With food reserves at their lowest point in decades, and the availability of arable land having reached its limit, any solution must focus on increasing global agricultural productivity.
The food shortage would affect the supply of animal food, which in turn would exacerbate the availability of animal protein for humans, he said. Least developed countries were simultaneously being punished by a crisis in the energy sector. The increase in transportation costs and the rise in biofuel production were both affecting the price of food for different reasons. The use of biofuels had little impact in reducing greenhouse gas emission.
Calling on developed countries to meet their official development assistance targets, he noted that last year had been the third consecutive year of reduced flows of aid to poor countries. Only four developed countries had committed 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product to aid, as stipulated in international agreements on official development assistance.
JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO ( Nicaragua), aligning himself with the position of the Group of 77 and the Central American Integration System, said the food crisis resulted from the economic model that had been thrust upon the world. If the Comprehensive Framework aimed to target the existing gaps, it was important to work on the basis that humanitarian assistance should be assumed by those who had imposed the model that was now falling apart. As for efforts to develop standards for biofuel production, there was nothing as inhumane as planting food to fuel machines when there were people lacking food. That should be the starting point of any decision.
Considering the structural causes of the food crisis, the solution should also be structural, he said, noting that there had been proposals to eliminate trade distortions, including farm subsidies in developed countries. It was also necessary to strengthen existing programmes in the agricultural sector. If the international community failed to muster the political will to resolve those issues, it would be difficult to find the political will to tackle the greatest challenges represented by climate change. The first measures to address the food crisis should involve changing wasteful consumption patterns in industrialized countries.
Outlining efforts to address rising oil prices in Latin America and the Caribbean on the basis of fair market principles, he said 18 countries in the region were participating in that programme, with Nicaragua playing a leading role. That effort was truly an expression of solidarity based on complementarity and respect for the sovereignty and self-determination of peoples. The current lifestyle could not be sustained. Instead of thinking of producing more, it was necessary to think about saving and using resources in a sustainable manner. Not all solutions were technological in nature. Above all, it was necessary to change human conscience.
MOHAMED ALAHRAF (Libya), aligning himself with the African Group and the Group of 77 and China, said that, while it was true that emergency food aid was a rapid and positive response to the food crisis, a proper solution required a much more complex response. For instance, the situation was being made worse because the financial aid directed at sustainable development had declined from $8 billion to nearly half that amount.
He noted that rising energy prices -- which raised transportation costs -- contributed to the rising cost of food, but were not central to the crisis. Maintaining adequate levels of investment in agriculture should be a main focus, and the World Trade Organization should be encouraged to complete its work in such a way as to allow honest competition in the markets of rich countries by goods from developing countries. In addition, developing countries must be allowed to obtain modern technologies to improve economic productivity. It was a shame that hundreds of billion of dollars were being spent on arms when only a fraction of that was needed to increase agricultural productivity.
It was important to provide financing and build national capacity so as to improve the situation faced by poorer States, he said, adding that his own country, a food importer, had abolished import tariffs to ease the burden on the buying public. It had also invested in a project to grow wheat and was working with other African countries to increase food production in the region. Libya supported the Secretary-General’s High-Level Task Force on Food Security and looked forward to the day when the international community would begin dealing with that issue honestly, rather than on the basis of political considerations.
DMITRY I. MAKSIMYCHEV ( Russian Federation) said it was tragic that, notwithstanding great productive capacity and the flourishing of science and technology in the twenty-first century, the United Nations was forced to address issues of food crisis and the threats of hunger. The situation with food prices was yet another testament to the need to approach economic decisions responsibly. While there were differing views regarding the causes of the current situation, it was all too easy to explain the crisis by growing consumption in major developing countries, particularly those with large populations. Those countries could feed themselves. Other factors were involved such as the negative role played by a sharp -- and subsidized -- shift to the production of biofuels from food crops, and the payment of export subsidies by a number of developed countries.
He said the international response to the global food crisis should proceed on the humanitarian track involving the provision of assistance to countries and regions requiring it and long-term efforts to eliminate the causes of the crisis while creating the conditions for the establishment of global food security. Modern technology allowed the provision of food supplies to twice the number of the current world population, and it was important to tap its possibilities. A well-considered approach to genetically modified products was needed. The only solution to the food crisis was harmonious action by all countries, both at the national and international levels, and the forging of a broad international partnership on agricultural production, with the United Nations playing a coordinating role. The Rome Conference had been an important step in that regard.
Turning to his own country’s national response to the food crisis, he said Russia would step up its efforts to increase agricultural output and develop its agricultural infrastructure. Historically, the country had been among the major grain suppliers and it intended to return to that position. The Russian Federation was also interested in international cooperation in the areas of scientific research, economic analysis and training. It was also obvious that in 2008 and 2009, the international community would have to make efforts to stabilize the food market. During the recent Group of Eight (G-8) Summit, the President of the Russian Federation had proposed a number of ideas, including a meeting of G-8 agriculture ministers, with the participation of major producing and exporting countries and international organizations, and a summit in 2009 to discuss possible measures to stabilize grain-trade prices.
Regarding the energy crisis, he emphasized the role of political instability in the Middle East and speculative factors. The answers to the crisis should be formulated on the basis of the principles adopted at the St. Petersburg G-8 meeting in 2006, which included shared responsibility by consumers and producers, the responsibility of transit countries, and the establishment of true partnerships among all the participants in the energy market. Quite a lot had been done in that respect, but the real situation on the market testified to the need to continue those efforts. It was important to form a favourable investment regime, ensure a transparent market-access system and use the entire array of renewable energy sources, not just biofuels. Russia was taking steps to liberalize its gas market and reduce the tax burden in the oil sector. It was also pursuing major reforms in the electric energy sector and taking a set of measures to enhance energy efficiency. Russia also supported the development of nuclear energy as the main alternative energy source.
BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, said the food and energy crises threatened security and stability in the most hard-hit countries. The surge in energy prices resulted from the policies of the major Powers in the Middle East, while oil speculators from developed countries had exacerbated the problem. As for the food crisis, a decline in agricultural investment and in research and production had had a direct impact, while increased investment in biofuel had diverted certain crops meant for consumption towards fuel production. Climatic catastrophes, such as drought, desertification, frost and the drying up of water, further affected food production and could be traced directly to pollution. The fact that some countries did not respect the Kyoto Protocol’s provisions on pollution control meant that other countries suffered. To tackle food insecurity, the international community must take all those factors into account.
A strategy to alleviate the food crisis should be backed by genuine political will in developed countries, he stressed. In the last three decades, Syria had striven for food sufficiency by prioritizing agricultural output as an important component of gross domestic product. Unfortunately, Israel’s occupation of parts of Syria had damaged the latter’s agricultural prospects, especially where it had buried toxic nuclear waste in land thought to be arable. The Comprehensive Framework for Action must touch on the financial resources necessary for full implementation of the actions it stipulated, which should be separate from official development assistance, which was earmarked for activities relating to the Millennium Development Goals.
BYRGANYM ALTIMOVA ( Kazakhstan) said that even before the rapid rise in food prices, some 854 million people worldwide had been estimated to be undernourished, and the present crisis could drive another 100 million people into poverty and hunger. Kazakhstan shared the view that the food crisis had been brought about by a number of closely interrelated factors, including food prices, population growth, biofuel production and climate change. Dealing with the causes of the crisis required a holistic and coherent approach, with the international community acting consistently and in unison. Governments, the United Nations system, development banks, non-governmental organizations, the scientific community and the private sector all had an important role to play.
She called on all Member States to demonstrate the necessary political will and flexibility in order to bring about a new trade regime that would strengthen food security while promoting food production and investment in the agricultural sectors of developing economies. It would be necessary in that regard to intensify efforts to complete the Doha Round of trade talks, ensure effective action by international financial institutions, and review programmes promoting biofuel use. There was an urgent need to develop closer regional cooperation, and it was critically important at the international level to strengthen partnerships and ensure comprehensive and coordinated actions by all stakeholders. The main factor in achieving the goals set at various forums, including the Rome Summit, would be mustering the political will of leaders of all States and providing active support for international and regional organizations, including the United Nations.
MONICA CONTRERAS, Permanent Observer for the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization, said globalization and interdependence meant that all countries, not just poor or developing ones, would feel the effects of the diminishing food supply. At the same time, the world had the knowledge and tools to attack the problem, but it was political will, more than the lack of resources, that could prevent the international community from taking the necessary steps.
Welcoming the Comprehensive Framework for Action, she said the need to secure adequate nutrition was a fundamental human right more important than securing energy resources. Each State had a fundamental obligation to develop policies and strategies to eliminate hunger, relying on the principles of sustainability. Each country, as well as the international community, should focus on building capacity to implement the legal framework for sustainable development across all sectors. Food security could not be dealt with in isolation.
Turning to the biofuel question, she said scientists had now determined that they could be produced from waste wood materials, cellulose and other non-food fibres. To devote corn or other food resources and croplands to the production of biofuel jeopardized the food supply and the recommendation to use food for fuel needed serious review. The Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization would also have liked to see the Comprehensive Framework address the critical role of oceans in world food supply. According to estimates, some 75 per cent of the world’s fish stocks were exploited or overexploited, and the world’s capture fisheries were operating beyond sustainable demands.
Last month, the issue of maritime safety and security had been discussed at the ninth meeting of the United Nations informal consultative process for oceans, highlighting the link between security issues and overfishing, she said. In the context of food security, it was critical to develop comprehensive integrated coastal zone management.
She went on to note that the work of WFP and FAO had focused on meeting famine relief and other urgent needs. What was needed was a more sustained and systematic building of capacity for producing and supplying food, from the scientific, socio-economic and legal perspectives. The Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization urged that those points of view be given greater emphasis.
TARIQ AL ANSARI ( Qatar), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, noted that wheat prices had risen by 130 per cent over 2007 levels. The price of maize and rice had also gone up, through by a smaller amount. The time of easy access to food was long gone, and current market analyses seemed to indicate that the trend of rising prices would continue into the future. That would have the effect of undermining poverty reduction efforts and widen the circle of extreme poverty by adding another 100 million people to the ranks of the very poor -- many of whom were African. More than 2 billion people who worked on “smallholder farms” did not benefit much from the rising food prices, despite being producers themselves, because they could not obtain fertilizers or seeds to boost production. Bad weather and rising fuel prices imposed further restrictions on such people, as well as larger producers.
He noted that the executive heads of the United Nations specialized agencies, funds and programmes, as well as those of the Bretton Woods institutions, had met in Switzerland, where they had called in April for speedy action to help farmers in developing countries during the next crop cycle. In light of that meeting, the Government of Qatar valued the initiative of IFAD, launched on 25 April, to provide $200 million to boost world agricultural production in developing countries so as to help increase food stocks in world markets. Qatar also appreciated the close cooperation and support provided to the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme by FAO, WFP, IFAD and NEPAD. For its part, Qatar would spare no effort to remain an effective actor in the present global crises.
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