Boosting agricultural production vital to solving food crisis, ECOSOC chief says

President of ECOSOC, Ambassador Léo Mérorès of Haiti

20 May 2008 – The world has the necessary knowledge and expertise to fight the current food crisis but it needs to muster the political will and the resources to ensure there is a lasting solution for the millions of people now suffering, the President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) said today.

Léo Mérorès told a special meeting on the global food crisis, held at UN Headquarters in New York, that the crisis of soaring food prices and shortages of basic crops is not only threatening the health of survival of ordinary people, but jeopardizing the political and economic stability of many governments.

The urban poor, rural landless peasants, women, children and other members of the world’s most vulnerable are among those suffering the hardest from the current crisis, he said.

“The time to act is now,” Mr. Mérorès said, stressing the need for both immediate action to meet humanitarian needs and for longer-term increased agricultural production.

“It is my view that agriculture has to be put back in the centre of the development agenda,” he said. “We need to concentrate efforts on minimizing greenhouse emissions, deforestation and global warming, while finding ways to promote investments in agriculture [and] maximize the use of agro-science and technology, with the aim of reducing the costs of production and substantially increasing the productivity and output of every hectare of arable land.”

The ECOSOC President welcomed the recent establishment by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of a high-level task force on the crisis, adding that ECOSOC would do all it could to contribute.

During its substantive session in July the Council will convene round-table and panel discussions on food security and its humanitarian segment is expected to focus in part on the challenges related to the provision of food aid.

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro told today’s special session that the crisis is driving an estimated 100 million people or more into deep poverty, on top of the 830 million others already facing acute shortages of basic foods.

“That represents seven lost years in the global fight against poverty and hunger,” she said, adding that the progress so far towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the set of eight anti-poverty targets which world leaders have agreed to work towards by 2015 – could be virtually wiped out.

“Everywhere, families on the edge are cutting back. Those who ate two meals a day now get by with one. In many countries, even people with jobs and salaries are buying rice by the cup rather than the bag. Such deprivation is degrading. It breeds violence. We have seen it already in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Stressing that much of the problem is man-made, Ms. Migiro urged policymakers to carefully examine the many cases, including the increasing use of biofuels, especially those that are grain-based.

“The trade-off between the energy, environment and social issues involved is subtle and immensely complex,” she cautioned.

General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim also emphasized the need for greater investment in agriculture so as to boost production to meet the global demand.

“We need to use our best science, tools and technologies to optimize efficiency and boost production,” he said. “We also need to implement policies that support land and resource ownership. Trade policy reforms are overdue. We need to create more of a level playing field for developing country farmers to benefit from higher prices.”

Mr. Kerim said the spike in oil prices had contributed significantly to the surge in food costs.

“A sustainable solution to the crisis must therefore be linked to oil price stability and our efforts to tackle climate change.”


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