Deputy Secretary-General: Statements
New York, 20 May 2008 - Deputy Secretary-General's remarks to ECOSOC Special Session on the Global Food CrisisMr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to join you this afternoon in this special session on the global food crisis. I should also like to thank His Excellency Bingu Wa Mutharika [President of Malawi] and the Right Honorable Gordon Brown [Prime Minister of the UK] for their statements.
As he was traveling in West Africa recently, the Secretary-General had a conversation with the foreign minister of Burkina Faso. The Foreign Minister shared with the Secretary-General his deep concern over the worsening living conditions in his country where, as in many other nations, half the population live on $1 a day or less; the vast majority being small farmers.
Now comes the global food crisis, which has pushed the basic cost of living beyond the means of many of his countrymen. He spoke of this crisis as a greater threat, by far, than terrorism. “It makes people doubt their dignity as men,” he said.
Poverty has many faces. Its most brutal and degrading is hunger.
Before this crisis erupted, more than 830 million people in the world faced acute shortages of food. The World Bank estimates that price increases?74 percent for rice over the past year, 130 percent for wheat?will drive another 100 million people or more into deep poverty. That represents seven lost years in the global fight against poverty and hunger, the bank further calculated. If so, our progress toward the Millennium Development Goals will be virtually wiped out.
Clearly, our MDGs are at risk?health, education, social stability and governance. 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. And this may be only the beginning.
We know the general causes. We know what we must do in terms of immediate humanitarian needs. We also know that we must deal with the root causes of the problem, lest we face the same crisis next year or the year after with more severe intensity.
It goes without saying that this situation demands urgent, coordinated international action. We must not be lulled into a false complacency by the fact that prices for some basic foodstuffs have lately begun to recede, or that the crisis does not dominate news headlines the way it did a few weeks ago. The problem remains acute. Prices remain far above what they were six months ago. They are still too high for much of the world's people, especially the poorest.
Our challenge is to deal with this problem now, so that it will not eternally recur. We can debate the weight of various causes: high oil prices, speculation, drought and bad weather, the trend toward bio-fuels.
What is beyond debate is that much of this problem is man-made. It is, at its root, a product of neglect and our own ineffectuality. We need to rethink the failed policies of the past. We need new strategies for development that work. Among these: technical and financial assistance so that small farmers can afford the agricultural inputs they need?fertilizer, for example, and high-yield seeds tailored to local growing conditions.
But we must not forget the big picture. Global economic growth is the engine that has lifted vast numbers of the world's people out of poverty. We must keep this great expansion going. Above all, we must deepen it and extend it to those who have been left behind, less than a $1 a day. For them, a new deal on agricultural development is the key to a better future.
So, ladies and gentlemen:
I especially welcome this timely session of ECOSOC. Given the Council's combined expertise in economic and social affairs?coupled with your reach across the entire UN system?you are uniquely positioned to take on this problem in its full dimension.
Today's meeting will draw on the ministerial discussions conducted last week at the Commission on Sustainable Development, where the food crisis was very much a focus. Your recommendations and conclusions will be critical as we move toward the high-level Conference on Food Security in Rome in early June. I do not need to tell you how important your work today will be, nor do I need to remind you that time is of the essence.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General's Task Force on the Global Food Crisis is getting up to speed, bringing together the UN specialized agencies, Funds and Programmes as well as the Bretton Woods institutions and the Secretariat.
The Task Force will develop a comprehensive strategy for both immediate and long-term action in four priority areas:
? First, ensuring that emergency needs are met. As you know, the World Food Program needs an extra $755 million to fund the rising cost of current operations. Additional money will be needed to cover new needs arising from the crisis. The Secretary-General is fully confident that we can meet these needs. In fact, we have already made substantial progress;
? Second, strengthening the resilience of local populations. This means helping with social safety nets, such as cash transfers and school feeding programs to better protect vulnerable communities from malnutrition and hunger;
? Third, helping small-scale farmers boost production by helping them get seeds and fertilizers. It's imperative that we support the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Bank and Governments in providing assistance urgently, so that it arrives in time for the current planting cycle. Otherwise the crisis will only grow more serious;
? Fourth, reinforcing local and national government in their own responses to the crisis. We must also do all we can to help stabilize global food prices and supplies. In particular this means pushing to ease trade and export restrictions that distort markets and impede the free flow of agricultural commodities.
For the longer term, there must be urgent investment in agriculture, particularly in Africa. Women farmers, who in some countries make up to 70 percent of the food-growing workforce, will play a crucial role.
The international community needs to increase R&D [research and development] support for agricultural development. The goal: to increase yields, encourage a greater variety of crops, encourage better land-use, water management and conservation practices.
Many countries will need to strengthen rural institutions and improve agricultural infrastructure. That includes seed banks, rural credit institutions, agro-processing and storage facilities and transport infrastructure. In some countries, specific links in the agricultural supply and distribution chain are weak; in others, the whole chain may need strengthening with substantial international support.
We must move the Doha trade talks toward a successful conclusion, with an eye toward stimulating agricultural development. That presupposes, in part, a breakthrough on agricultural subsidies and tariffs in developed countries.
In thinking through potential solutions to the food crisis, we must look carefully at the multitude of causes. Among them is the increasing use of bio-fuels, especially grain-base fuels. The trade-off between the energy, environment and social issues involved is subtle and immensely complex. We need to study this carefully.
The current crisis is a harbinger of what is to come, unless we act wisely and decisively. Our common humanity demands it.
Thank you, Mr. President. I wish you fruitful deliberations and thank you very much for your kind attention.