Ban issues call to action to tackle ‘forgotten’ global food crisis

26 January 2009 – Although the global food crisis has slipped from the headlines and prices have fallen, the emergency remains as critical as ever, demanding improvements in production and distribution, and credit, seeds and fertilizers for developing countries, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has warned.

“The food crisis has not gone away. Millions of people still experience it every day,” Mr. Ban wrote with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in a “call-to-action” opinion piece published by the International Herald Tribune in connection with this week’s Madrid conference on food security.

“PThe food crisis has not gone away. Millions of people still experience it every dayrices may have fallen on global markets, but they nonetheless remain close to their 2008 peaks in many poor countries. The sheer volatility of prices makes it difficult for farmers to invest and plan; the global credit crunch compounds the problem.

Across the developing world – and even in wealthy nations – the purchasing power of poor and middle-income families has declined with slowing economic growth. The numbers of hungry people unable to exercise their right to food stands near one billion. Fifty million are malnourished children.”

The two leaders stressed that world poverty and hunger cannot be reduced, in line with the UN Millennium Development Goal of slashing both in half by 2015, without improvements in agricultural production and distribution, noting that more than a billon people – and roughly 75 per cent of the world’s poorest people – live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, with people in Africa suffering the most.

“Most of the farm work is done by women. Their efforts contribute to the major share of the domestic product of poor countries. These smallholder farmers can produce more but will be unable to do so without help with credit, seeds, fertilizers and land tenure,” the leaders wrote.

Yet development assistance for agriculture has been falling off steadily, from 13 per cent in the early 1980s to 2.9 percent in 2005-6. “We are concerned that food systems are failing, with falling grain reserves, soaring prices and food riots,” the two said. “We know that the world will face ever-more severe food crises unless and until there is public action to stabilize food supplies and protect those who are most vulnerable. We cannot wait for the story to repeat itself.”

While praising efforts during the past year, with farmers, community organizations, private enterprise and governments in many affected countries working hard, often together, to tackle the food, they warned that it is not enough.

“We know that consistent finance is needed to create a food-secure world and to eliminate hunger, especially among children,” they said. “Additional allocations to agriculture, rural development and social protection should be made in accord with aid effectiveness principles, and we should strengthen coordination and make greater use of institutional and financial systems to ensure transparency, predictability and results.”

The World Bank also called for boosting efforts to help the poor and vulnerable feed themselves.

“We expect high price volatility to continue and it will hit the poorest the most, as they spend half their income on food,” Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said. “More needs to be done as we must ensure those who are vulnerable get the assistance they need.”

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