It is an honour and pleasure to participate in this Ministerial Roundtable, taking the food crisis as the lens for examining the inter-linkages within this session’s thematic cluster of issues.
The Roundtable provides a timely occasion for Ministers to have a focused dialogue, not only on the rise in food prices, but, more importantly, on the factors behind it.
The international community needs to formulate a comprehensive, integrated and long-term response, supported by an in-depth examination of the inter-locking and intertwined linkages among the issues, of agriculture, rural development, land, drought and desertification.
Let me be clear. We do need to address the run-away food prices as an emergency. We need to take quick, targeted action to deliver emergency food aid to the people in need. And the international community must act now to mobilize the additional funds required to meet the increased food aid requirements.
But crisis management alone is not enough. We need to make sure it does not happen again.
To do this, we need to identify: What went wrong? What were warning signals? And why were they not heeded?
We need to identify the gaps in our collective response system and to fix them.
The Commission’s deliberations, thus far, clearly show that the current food crisis is not caused by any one factor. A complexity of factors is involved.
There has been under-investment in agriculture for 20 years.
Capacity-building support to smallholder farmers, including women farmers, has been lagging, especially in extension services.
Drought and desertification have been reducing soil fertility and water supply. Meanwhile, public spending in rural infrastructure, as well as in agriculture, has been falling, leaving irrigation and other production facilities in disrepair.
As a consequence, the productivity growth of smallholder farming has been slowing.
Coupled with the recent sky-rocketing energy prices, which has increased production and shipping costs, agricultural production may not respond quickly to high food prices.
On the demand side, there is the pressure from population growth and changing consumption patterns, especially in Asia.
The demand for bio-fuels has had an impact on land available for food crops in some countries. It is important that the development of bio-fuels is consistent with food security and environmental concerns.
But demand for agricultural products did not shoot up overnight. We have long been aware of population growth. Today, we know, with a significant degree of certainty, that the global population is going to reach 9 billion in 2050. And the majority of the increase will be in developing countries.
We also know that rising prosperity and changing diets are contributing to steadily increasing food demand. We have seen these trends emerging over the last few years.
In short, there has been time for adjustment. Why has supply failed to meet the rising demand?
During our thematic discussions, delegates have been underscoring the impact of climate change on agricultural production. This begs another obvious question, which we must confront: If we agree that climate change is impacting, and will further impact, agricultural production, what are we doing in terms of adaptation?
Let me take this opportunity to emphasize that, in our search for solutions to the food crisis, a piece-meal approach – forgive the pun – will not suffice. Yes, we need to increase investment and public spending. Yes, we need to provide more and better assistance to smallholder farmers. Yes, we need to address the issue of market access for agricultural products from developing countries. And, yes, we need to focus on developing improved crop varieties that are more adaptable to drought and that need less fertilizer or pesticide.
But the key to long-term food security lies in implementing an integrated, multi-pronged, and coherent strategy.
I am confident this Roundtable will lead to an improved understanding of the inter-linkages among the thematic issues and help catalyze more energetic action in tackling the food crisis and developing an effective long-term response – providing critical input to upcoming meetings and to the CSD-17 policy session next year.
The Secretary-General has set up a High-level Task Force to help implement an appropriate response to current food challenges and a comprehensive framework for action, which includes a range of both immediate and medium- and long-term strategies and actions. We welcome Ministers’ guidance on the way forward.