|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Economic and Social Council
Special Meeting on Global Food Crisis
9th Meeting (PM)
Economic and Social Council president calls for action to turn ‘threatening
situation into renaissance’ as special session on food crisis concludes
The world food crisis required the entire international community to work together in urgently putting policies in place that could “turn a threatening situation into an agricultural renaissance”, according to a statement produced by the President of the Economic and Social Council today as it concluded its special session on the global food crisis.
“In our collective action, there is a clear role for Governments, the United Nations system, development banks, non-governmental organizations, the broader civil society, the scientific community, academia, the private sector, philanthropic organizations and the media,” Council President Léo Mérorès of Haiti said in the text, read out this afternoon by Vice-President Andrei Dapkiunas (Belarus), as he summed up a three-day discussion that included high-level Government and United Nations officials, a range of experts and more than 70 national delegations (see Press Releases ECOSOC/6331 and ECOSOC/6333).
He said that the special session -- the first response by the Council in carrying out the coordination responsibilities conferred on it by the 2005 World Summit -- was a small step in demonstrating how all those stakeholders could work together. It must turn into immediate, redoubled efforts to get food to those in immediate need, along with assistance for national efforts in the affected countries to create nutritional safety nets, with priority for infants and mothers.
It was also of the highest priority for donors and national Governments to provide farmers with the ability to meet production needs for the next growing season, he said. Meanwhile, researchers should quickly gain a better understanding of food markets and the role of speculation. All Member States should help bring about a new trade regime that would be more conducive to global food security.
Medium- to long-term measures should include a re-examination of the amount of official development assistance dedicated to agriculture, which had been in dramatic decline, he said. Improved inputs, decreased losses, secure land tenure and better infrastructure, road communication, transport and storage facilities were all factors that could increase food supply and income for the rural poor.
He called for a special concerted effort to address the crisis in Africa, with increased donor funding for publicly supported rural support, as well as research and development directed towards food crops best suited to local agro-climatic conditions. Governments should rethink biofuel policies and foster greater regional dialogue and South-South cooperation, in addition to enhanced collaboration with the private sector.
Finally, he called for a unified approach by the United Nations system and private-sector consideration of affordable pricing, while encouraging the global philanthropic community to develop innovative programmes to combat hunger and increase food production in the poorest countries.
Prior to the issuance of that statement, representatives of Member States continued their exchange of views on how their countries had been affected by the crisis, actions they were taking and what form combined international efforts should take. As in yesterday’s discussion, most agreed that the United Nations should take the lead coordination role in responding to the crisis, particularly in addressing international systemic problems that had caused the crisis. The importance of international financial institutions in reinvigorating agriculture in developing countries was also a focus of the discussion.
National responses noted by delegations from developing countries included the establishment of emergency funds, price controls on food staples, strategies to mitigate the effect of soaring fuel prices and the creation of dedicated high-level Government units. Land-use reform and export programmes geared to increasing market opportunities for small-scale producers were also discussed, as was the enhancement of infrastructure for growing, distribution and storing food.
United Nations agencies, international financial institutions and other organizations also described the food crisis from their respective points of view and described some of the programmes they were putting in place to respond in both the long and short term.
Speaking today were the representatives of Malaysia, Paraguay, Guyana, Thailand, Benin, Venezuela, Morocco, Belgium, Sudan, Lichtenstein, Israel, Nigeria, United States, Russian Federation, Haiti, Kuwait, Namibia and Libya.
The Council also heard statements by representatives of the observer missions of the European Community, Commonwealth Secretariat, Intergovernmental Institution for the Use of Micro-Algae Spirulina against Malnutrition, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Bank, International Atomic Energy Agency, World Food Programme and the United Nations Environmental Programme also made statements.
The Economic and Social Council will meet again at a time and place to be announced.
The representative of Malaysia stressed the need to identify accurately the causes of the crisis, particularly the systemic ones. They included increased subsidies in the North and greater privatization, which had impacted agricultural smallholders, and the fact that many developing countries had been persuaded to devote less attention to agriculture. Some had argued that increasing demand from emerging economies had contributed to rising food prices, but one could not ask those in the emerging economies to consume less food, especially when they were undernourished, and in light of over-consumption in the developed world. As the global food crisis was linked with agriculture, discussions on the matter must be held within the overarching framework of sustainable development. The key principles of sustainable development must apply, most particularly common but differentiated responsibility. Malaysia supported efforts to convene a special session of the General Assembly on the global food crisis.
The representative of Paraguay said his country’s economy depended primarily on agriculture, and exports of food products were of great importance. Paraguay was also trying to diversify its energy sources by producing fuel from sugarcane. The food crisis should be approached in a holistic manner, involving analysis of all the factors involved, with the participation of regional and international institutions. Technological and financial assistance were important in addressing the problem. Agricultural subsidies and trade barriers that distorted the food market were also among the issues that must be addressed.
The representative of Guyana, associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and the Rio Group, said it was important to address the underlying causes that had led to the current situation, taking into account the challenges already faced by developing countries. Among other things, Guyana advocated the establishment of an easily accessible special fund for global food security. At the national level, the Guyanese Government had adopted a policy against devoting that agricultural land to the production of biofuels. It had also adopted a slate of measures to address rising food prices, and introduced an agricultural export diversification programme and a rural enterprise programme. Regional efforts were also being made to diversify agricultural production.
The representative of Thailand said it was important to analyse the reasons behind rising oil prices and their effect on food prices. Food security went hand in hand with energy security. Thailand was the world’s fifth largest food producer, but with rising rice prices, poverty was still evident in the country. The Government had adopted a philosophy of sufficient economy in managing land and water resources. Sustainable development started with the people by way of sustainable production and consumption.
The representative of Benin said the ideal scenario would have seen action to prevent the crisis before it reached the point of rioting, given that the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other organizations had been warning for years of a looming food-security problem. Assistance to small-scale agriculture must be increased, a step that hopefully would occur at the coming Rome Conference meeting.
The representative of Venezuela, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Rio Group, said it was misleading to link the food crisis with the rising price of oil, pointing out that even in periods when oil prices were low, Ethiopia had experienced famine and grain prices had frequently risen. Rather than blaming oil producers, it was necessary to increase agricultural productivity, ensure equal access to markets and allow developing countries the freedom to set the rules they needed. Venezuela had been taking measures to strengthen food security on a regional basis and through South-South cooperation. Among other initiatives, it had proposed efforts to finance food security and initiatives to conserve biodiversity.
The representative of Morocco said vulnerable populations expected concrete actions based on a thorough assessment of the causes of the crisis, which included agricultural subsidies, badly designed aid, a decreasing in funding for agricultural activities, increasing demand for foodstuffs in emerging States, biofuel production and many others. There were no miracle solutions. More aid targeted to food self-determination and self-sufficiency was needed, as were related regional mechanisms, and more intense North-South and South-South cooperation.
The representative of Belgium stressed the critical role of women in food security and in preserving land and water. The food crisis had had a disproportionate impact on women and girls and there was a need to involve them in solutions to the crisis by ensuring their general empowerment.
The representative of the Sudan, supporting the Group of 77 and least developed countries, said the food crisis had brought the issue of development to the forefront of attention at the United Nations. The rise in food prices could push millions of people further into poverty, and understanding its causes was an initial step in addressing the crisis. The response must cover short-, medium- and long-term goals and the Sudan called on the international community, particularly the developed countries, to fund the programmes of WFP and other agencies. The Sudan was strengthening its social services network and promoting an ambitious programme of agricultural development. The crisis had exposed the weakness of the international system and there was a need to reach agreement at the upcoming conference in Doha, meet official development assistance goals and provide debt relief to developing countries.
The representative of Liechtenstein said that, without an immediate response to the food crisis, the implementation of several Millennium Development Goals would be at risk, and security in a number of countries would be in jeopardy. Many of the factors contributing to the global food crisis, such as climate change, the rising world population, changing dietary habits and soaring oil prices, were likely to have a lasting effect. Reinvesting in the agricultural sectors of developing countries was an imperative. In addition, the Doha development agenda must be brought to a successful conclusion. It was also critically important that State-imposed measures not exacerbate the rise in food prices. Food supplies needed for humanitarian purposes must be allowed to circulate freely. It was also important further to strengthen the capacity of WFP to respond to humanitarian needs by providing non-earmarked contributions. Liechtenstein had contributed 200,000 Swiss francs to the last WFP appeal, of which 100,000 Swiss francs were not earmarked. The country was ready to consider further support if needed.
The representative of Israel said that in the short term, it was necessary to ensure that food and sustenance reached the most vulnerable countries and people most in that need. In the long term, however, the solution was to provide not food, but capacity to produce food locally. That would involve an increased focus on agriculture, which had suffered neglect from the international community since the 1970s. Israel had introduced a resolution on agricultural technology for development in the General Assembly, and was prepared to work with countries requiring agricultural and water technologies, especially at the level of the smallholder farmer. Water conservation and efforts to deal with climate change and drought must be an integral part of the strategic plan, as should investment in production, research and development, and infrastructure. National and international trade policies would also be an important component of the solution to the crisis.
The representative of Nigeria, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said the importance of coordinated international leadership could not be overstated, and it was to be hoped that the Secretary-General’s Task Force would play an important role in that regard. The crisis should be seen as an opportunity to accord attention to agriculture, particularly in Africa. The continent had vast resources, but faced unique challenges. Nigeria encouraged the mainstreaming of international efforts into a comprehensive programme prepared by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) to address agricultural development since the best way to tackle the crisis was by revitalizing agriculture. Nigeria had initiated a national food-security programme and taken measures to boost domestic production of food crops. The country would also welcome increased investment in fertilizer and hoped to become a major exporter of that commodity.
The representative of the United States said President George W. Bush had recently announced his intention to spend an additional $1 billion on food aid and agricultural development programmes. Among other things, he intended to mobilize food aid for Africa through WFP and other international programmes. The country’s efforts also included disaster assistance to vulnerable populations in the fields of nutrition, health and livelihoods; targeted procurement of locally grown food to support small farmers; and market-friendly programmes to disseminate seeds, promote better land-management practices and alleviate bottlenecks to make trade work better. The international community must work collectively to complete the Doha Round and remove market restrictions, which prevented food from reaching vulnerable consumers. Other solutions could be found by removing barriers to development and disseminating biotechnology. The United States was paying close attention to the potential impact of biofuels on prices. It also advocated the establishment of an early warning network for famine and expected the Secretary-General’s Task Force to produce coordinated but flexible responses to the food crisis.
The representative of the Russian Federation called for objective, unbiased assessments of the crisis, including both the predictable factors of supply and demand and the more unpredictable ones such as financial speculation. The pressing nature of the crisis required the entire international community to pool its collective resources and expertise to meet it.
The representative of Haiti, associating himself with the Group of 77, the least developed countries and the Rio Group, said that, in contrast to the extreme scarcity that had caused recent riots in his country, it had been self-sufficient in food until two decades ago. Then, following trade liberalization and the importation of cheap grains, many farmers had stopped producing. Developing countries now needed adequate aid to restore self-sufficiency. But rather than doing away with the free market, it was necessary to reform agricultural subsidies and other factors that had played a large role in creating food dependency. Haiti called on the United Nations and the international community to make food security their first priority.
The representative of Kuwait, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, also emphasized the important role of international trade in food security and called for urgent actions to improve techniques for increasing agricultural yields. The role of biofuels and the price of oil must also be considered. Having contributed much to a fund to promote dignified life in developing countries and to WFP programmes, Kuwait would continue to work for the well-being of the world’s peoples.
The representative of Namibia, associating himself with Group of 77 and China, noted the irony of the food crisis midway to the Millennium Goals target year, said his country had to import approximately half of its food and expressed distress at the restrictions imposed by exporting countries. International organizations should actively discourage hoarding. Namibia had taken measures to increase productivity through irrigation and launched initiatives to encourage domestic processing, storage and distribution. Subsidies and assistance to small-scale farmers had also been introduced. However, Namibia called on developed countries to eliminate subsidies that discouraged self-determination and self-sufficiency in developing countries and to re-examine the role of biofuels.
The representative of Libya, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, also called on developed countries to eliminate subsidies and open their markets to products from developing countries, and to provide the latter with better seeds and new technologies. Assistance for agricultural diversification was also crucial. International financial institutions and foreign direct investment were important in many of those areas.
The representative of the European Commission said a number of adjustments to the market management of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy had been introduced to mitigate the effects of the price increases in the short term. For instance, export subsidies had been reduced, and the obligation for farmers to set aside 10 per cent of their arable land had been suspended. Milk quotas had been increased by 2 per cent. Given that no country was self-sufficient in food production, the right trade policies could make an important contribution to the improvement of global agricultural market operations in a manner consistent with individual countries’ legitimate expectation of food security. The European Union would continue to promote an open trade policy and encourage the elimination of export restrictions, including those recently introduced by a number of developing-country producers. High food prices should reinforce the commitment by developed countries to reform their trade-distorting farm subsidies through the early conclusion of the Doha Round of trade talks. Much could also be gained by the integration of regional food and agricultural markets, which the European Union could support through its regional assistance programmes. The global European Union response strategy under preparation contained a mix of measures, ranging from humanitarian operations, supporting appropriate fiscal measures and long-term safety-net interventions, to investments in agriculture and rural development.
The representative of the Commonwealth Secretariat emphasized that food security was an issue of human rights, as well as economics. That should form the basis of the international response. Developing countries faced the most severe challenges, and there was a need for more flexible financial support to agriculture, as considered by international financial institutions. The Commonwealth Secretariat also advocated reducing agricultural subsidies in the developed world, including those for biofuel production. At the domestic level, there was a need for well-designed safety nets. In the long run, international cooperation would help achieve highly diverse production. A successful conclusion of the Doha Round, secure land tenure -- including land rights for women -- and investment in infrastructure were also needed in order to take advantage of opportunities. Greater priority should be placed on agriculture at the national and international levels, and on measures to boost confidence in markets.
The representative of the Intergovernmental Institution for the Use of Micro-Algae Spirulina against Malnutrition (IIMSAM) said he envisioned development agencies and the international community joining the Institution’s endeavour to use spirulina as an intervention and enrichment tool of both policy and practical relevance to fortify food, so that the nutritional benefits associated with it could be delivered to the neediest people. Spirulina was not only nutritious, but also available, accessible and affordable. It held significant potential to realize a world free of hunger and malnutrition, and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
The representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said that in the long-term population pressures, emerging demand, climate change and malnutrition would continue to increase. There was, therefore, an urgent need for strong international and local responses to the food crisis. As IFRC was concerned with crisis mitigation at the community and national levels, it had launched a large-scale food-security programme for Africa which aimed to reach at least 20 per cent of the most vulnerable people and build protections against price shocks and scarcity crises.
The representative of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said the agency had launched a programme of policy and resource assistance for vulnerable farmers in the coming growing seasons that required $1.7 billion. Such assistance as seeds, fertilizer and livestock would immediately increase local production. In coordination with other partners, FAO was also integrating food security into a raft of other initiatives, and helping to prepare immediate response plans for national interventions in Africa. FAO had held a programming workshop in South Africa in the past two days.
The representative of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) said 85 per cent of farms worldwide measured less than two hectares and the average size was getting smaller. There was, therefore, an urgent need to assist smallholder farming, which had huge potential to increase production. The Fund was committed to ensuring that agricultural development and food security were properly restored to the centre of international development efforts, increasing the yields of small farmers in the coming seasons, and ensuring that rural people were able to overcome extreme poverty.
The representative of the World Bank said the next few weeks were critical and underscored the need for rapid action to stop the inflation of prices and damage at the macroeconomic level. The medium-term reforms required included assistance to small-scale farming and the restructuring of financial and market arrangements. The World Bank was increasing its activities in many related areas.
The representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it could contribute to United Nations efforts to address the crisis. For many years, the agency, through its joint FAO/IAEA Division had been using state-of-the-art research and development isotopic and nuclear techniques to help Member States improve food security and achieve sustainable agricultural production in such areas as soil science, plant breeding, animal reproduction and health. IAEA also used those techniques to assist States in improving land- and water-management and in studying human health and nutrition. Nuclear and isotopic techniques provided unique or substantial complementary value in addressing food security and safety.
The representative of the World Food Programme (WFP) said it was clear that the crisis should be seen as a global call for action. The agency maintained a programme to provide assistance and possessed a toolbox extending beyond traditional food aid. The Programme had recently made a special appeal for $750 million to meet additional needs arising from the food and energy crises. However, total requirements for 2008 amounted to $4.3 billion and there was a need to address the needs of some 100 million additional people facing rising food prices. WFP recognized that emergency food assistance was necessary, but it was not sufficient. The agency’s work was only part of a wider effort by the United Nations system. In the longer term, the Programme would work with Governments to review and reform existing policies to mitigate the impact of rising food prices. WFP looked forward to the Rome Conference, which would look at a full range of responses needed from the international community.
The representative of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) expressed support for efforts to address the food needs of millions of people at risk across the world. Parallel to immediate humanitarian requirements, however, was the need to focus on the root causes of the crisis -- the sustainability crisis. Despite its crucial importance in supporting societies, agriculture remained the largest driver of genetic erosion, species loss and conversion of natural habitats around the world. Therefore, solutions to the food crisis should also address the ongoing degradation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity. At the same time, it was neither strategic nor sustainable to pick on one cause of the food crisis -- biofuel production for example -- or one solution, such as increased food production or biotechnology, as “silver bullets”. Investment was of key importance to success. Just as society invested in social and economic infrastructure, the international community must invest in the “nature infrastructure”: ecosystems, including land; integrated water-resources management; and improving soil productivity.
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