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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Press conference on Food Security, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; FAO Director General Jacques Diouf; World Bank President Robert Zoellick; IFAD President Lennart Bage; and WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran (unofficial transcript)

Rome, Italy, 4 June 2008

SG: Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the media.

I believe the Rome Conference has been the success that it needed to be - for us, for the Governments gathered here, and most importantly for the hundreds of millions of hungry people in the world. There is a clear sense of resolve, shared responsibility, and political commitment among Member States to making the right policy choices, and to investing in agricultural productivity for years to come, especially for smallholder farmers. There is an acceptance of the need to provide special support for the most affected countries, and the most vulnerable populations.

I would like to thank Dr. Diouf, the Director-General of FAO and the Vice Chair of my High Level Task Force, for this most timely conference on one of the most important challenges of our time: that of regenerating world food security. Our discussions yesterday showed me that our work is only just beginning. I would also like to thank my colleagues in the High-Level Task Force for working hard in producing a joint plan in such short time. Moreover, I would like to thank Prime Minister Berlusconi for co-hosting a meeting over dinner with Heads of State and Government, and other senior Government officials, from 44 countries. A press communiqué is being distributed now.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have just received a petition signed by well over 300,000 individuals all over the world, asking leaders for rapid action and fundamental reform to end the food crisis. As President Mubarak said yesterday, this issue has clearly touched many all over the world. Many people, rich and poor, farmer and consumer, city and country dwellers, are watching us here today.

I am therefore calling upon world leaders and all participants in the Conference to leave Rome with the following commitments:

- To move ahead, collectively, with a sense of urgency and purpose, to fighting hunger and promoting world food security.

- To creating a partnership of nations, multilateral organizations, civil society and the private sector, around a clear plan of action that we need to implement urgently. Hundreds of millions of the world's people expect no less.

As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I am committed to working with my colleagues in the High Level Task Force to achieve these goals. We simply cannot afford to fail. We must not address only the immediate symptoms of the problem – that of soaring food prices. We must focus on the underlying causes of the problem: years of neglect of the agricultural sector around the world, and the lack of investment in increasing productivity.

To that end, I believe we must take immediate steps to achieve the following:

- We must make the international trade system work more effectively to make more food available, at reasonable prices.

- We must scale up humanitarian aid, to meet the needs of the hungriest, to cushion the impact of the high food prices on the most vulnerable populations. We are already paying special attention to the nutrition of children and women in communities at risk. This will require significant efforts by WHO, WFP and UNICEF, as well as the major NGOs, and much greater investment in the care of the malnourished.

- We must find a way to significantly boost harvests in the next year, through the urgent provision of seeds, tools, and fertilizers for this year's planting cycle. In the longer run, only sustained, intelligent investment in agriculture will work. As I said yesterday, by the year 2030, we must increase global food production by 50%. In this respect, FAO, IFAD and the World Bank are in the process of establishing input support projects for 10 countries, and will do the same for another 20 countries in the following three months.

- We must help governments struggling to cope with the impact of the food crisis. They already want to help the poor, and boost agricultural investment. We must help them do that through balance of payments and fiscal support.

These are four of several urgent actions identified in the Comprehensive Framework for Action, which was developed by my High-Level Task Force.

Most of you will have received copies of the key elements of the CFA, and Mr. John Holmes will be telling you more about the framework shortly after this press conference.

I would like to stress that we are not only presenting ideas in this document. We are already using the principles outlined in the CFA, by putting money and our time against the priorities identified in many of the most affected countries.

Substantial new resources will be needed – perhaps as much as $15 to $20 billion a year as our efforts build up. Most will come from concerned countries themselves, but bilateral donors; the UN; the World Bank, IMF and WTO; development banks and other international and regional institutions will need to contribute. We will be able to be more precise about resource needs as joint assessments at country level provide the reliable data we still lack.

I would like to commend the many important financial pledges and proposals made before and during the Rome conference. In particular, I was encouraged by President Sarkozy's commitment to the global partnership, and his intention to provide one billion euros in the next five years to boost agricultural productivity in Africa. In this context, I would like to encourage all member states to provide their financial contributions by utilizing and strengthening existing facilities and mechanisms.

And of course many member states have taken urgent measures of their own. We will continue to support them as best as we can.

Addressing the world food crisis in all its immediate and longer term aspects, requires substantial and sustained financial and political commitment. Rome is an opportunity: while we do not know all of the answers, we know what is most needed now and in the near future.

This is a fight we can not afford to lose. The enemy is hunger. Hunger degrades everything we have been fighting for in recent years and decades. Recent riots and protests showed that hunger and the threat of hunger breed unrest and instability. We are duty bound to act, to act now, and to act as one.

Thank you very much.

Mr. Diouf: Thank you for having played such an important role in the success of this conference.

I want to add the notion of urgency for this planting season. In the Northern hemisphere the planting season is in March and July. We are already in June. It is important to mobilize as many resources as we can.

I am in a good mood after receiving this morning a letter from Ahmad Mohammed Ali, President of the Islamic Development Bank.

The letter addressed to me said that IDB has decided to allocate 1.5 billion dollars for a programme towards securing food and agriculture for 2008/09 cropping season. (he reads the letter)

Producers must be able to fertilize. The programme has also medium and long terms measures. The implementation will also require capacity building and investments. (?)

We are looking forward to your collaboration.

Mr. Zoellick: Thank you Prime Minister, people of Italy and Rome,

I have been struck by the consensus at this meeting on what is causing today's food crisis and on what we need to do. The challenge now for the international community is to do it. We need action, resources and results in real time.

Here in Rome, and at the TICAD conference last week, leader after African leader has said that high food and energy prices are putting their reforms, their growth strategies, and most importantly, their people, at grave risk. They are asking the same question: what can be done now? Not next month. Not in a year. But now.

Riots in over 30 countries, 30 million Africans who will likely fall into poverty, 100 million people worldwide who are at risk, 850 million people who are malnourished; 2 billion people who are struggling every day to put food on the table. If we cannot act now, when?

This is not a natural catastrophe. It is man-made and can be fixed by us. It does not take complex research. We know what has to be done.

Our task is two-fold: to handle today's danger for the millions of people for whom securing food has become a daily struggle, and then to turn higher food prices into an opportunity for developing world agriculture, and for farmers in developing countries. I believe we can do both.

The Task Force led, by the Secretary General, has drawn up a Comprehensive Framework for Action. This is important and can help guide up with short and long-term responses.

For the first challenge, I have proposed that this meeting commit to helping the twenty most vulnerable countries in the coming weeks. Working with the WFP, FAO, IFAD, and the development banks, and with financial support from bilateral donors we need to undertake this work by the time of the Group of Eight meeting in July. Then go on to do more.

The agencies and governments at the meeting should also commit to getting seeds and fertilizer out to smallholder farmers in the coming planting months. This can make the difference between food or hunger at the next harvest time.

And we must agree on an international call to scrap food export bans and restrictions that globally are driving prices up and hurting the poor.

If we take just these three actions now, those of us gathered here in Rome can make the difference between millions having food on the table, or going without. The choice is clear.

We must also think ahead beyond today's crisis. At the G8 meeting, we must see progress on addressing the longer-term challenge of doubling global food production over the next 30 years.

As I outlined in an article last week, this requires boosting developing country agricultural products and productivity so developing countries can benefit from the growing demand for food.

As part of this longer-term strategy, investment in small farmers, in agribusiness, and in agricultural research could triple yields. New risk management tools can be deployed to protect poor farmers and countries.

Easing corn and oil seed-based bio-fuel subsidies, mandates and tariffs, and closing the Doha trade round must also be part of these longer-term measures.

This is the agenda for the 2 G8 meetings, in June and the Summit in July, and we must continue to drive this agenda forward. But today is Rome, and in Rome we can and must take action now.

Q: Secretary-General, you said nothing in that press release about bio-fuel and trade restrictions. There was no agreement whatsoever yesterday night on bio-fuel and trade restrictions? Thank you.

SG: There has been much discussion on the impact of bio-fuel to the price rise of food and how much impact it has caused to the current food crisis. I think we do not have any clear evidence, any definitive trade off between agricultural productivity and these bio-fuels: I think there is an urgent need to establish a greater degree of international consensus and agreed policy guidelines on bio-fuel production, which takes full account of food security income and energy needs at all levels of our countries - research and development, manufacturing of bio-fuel impact, trade measures and financing options. Information exchanges are also necessary among the countries concerned and therefore, I think we need more research and analysis on this issue. Let us watch how the debate among the international community will go on this bio-fuel issue. But at this time I would like to make a comment instead, that there are many reasons which have caused this food price rise, definitely this bio-fuel is regarded as one of the causes. However as I said, the level of the extent of the impact, how much it has done, needs to be assisted and evaluated and I would urge the international community to have more research and analysis on this issue. As I said in my speech, many delegations have expressed their concern about trade distorting practices, and I have urged Member States who have taken such trade policies like export bans or import incentives that they should reconsider their policies. Thank you.

Q: Agricultural activities are also a cause for climate change. What is the model of agriculture you propose?

SG: Agricultural productivity and the food crisis affect a great deal the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] and overall the development of the countries, particularly the developing countries. It affects seriously too many “bottom billion” people. I am concerned about this negative impact, this may affect our overall development policies of the international community. This is exactly why the leaders of the international community have identified this as one of the very serious issues and identified that this is the issue which the international community [must] address with a sense of great urgency. I am encouraged that the world leaders have demonstrated their political will and there have been many demonstrations in the form of very generous contributions. I am sure that this will continue. This will affect our goal to eradicate poverty and hunger, this will affect our efforts to reduce the child and maternal mortality, this will affect the equal educational opportunities, this will affect negatively our fight against infectious diseases, including HIV AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Therefore it is absolutely necessary at this time that the international community address this issue in a concerted and collective way. Thank you.

Q: What is your expectation of China as the country that feeds about one fifth of the population in this planet facing a critical food crisis? By the way, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, you just came back from China, where you even made a press conference on the ruins of the earthquake together with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Could you give your observations on this trip? Thank you.

Mr. Diouf: China is feeding 20% of world population on only 7% of world arable land. It is in itself quite an achievement and China has been subject recently to a number of calamities, first the winter that has been particularly harsh and has had an impact on vegetable production, and more recently, the earthquake. The Government of China has put in place a committee for the rehabilitation of agriculture in the areas that have been affected. We naturally will continue our excellent cooperation with China in agricultural production and in increasing productivity, but I must add that China is also playing an important role in South-South cooperation in providing experts for developing countries. I have signed an agreement in Jakarta under which the Chinese government will provide 3.500 experts for the South-South cooperation programme within the next five years. Thank you.

SG: On the second question, I had an opportunity of visiting Wenchuan Sichuan province, which is the epicentre of the earthquake. I was so humbled and saddened by what I have seen, such a level of destruction and damage caused by the natural disaster. At the same time I was encouraged by such strong commitment shown by Chinese people under the leadership of the Chinese leaders. Then, with the spirit of self-help and self-cooperation they were working very hard to first of all rescue and [provide] relief [for] the victims and overcome these challenges caused by the natural disaster. What I have felt during my visit to China and Myanmar, devastated by cyclone Nargis, I felt that the international community, led by the United Nations, should organize and should be better prepared, first of all to prevent such natural disasters, if we can; if anything unfortunately happens, the whole international community, in a more systematic and organized way, to provide search and rescue and relief efforts, rehabilitation and reconstruction. We have OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] in the United Nations, which is responsible for that. I have appointed the Humanitarian Coordinator to address all these issues. We have been discussing with the Member States of the United Nations to sharpen our capacity to prevent as well as to deal with this reduction and disaster prevention issues. Thank you very much.

Q: A question for Ms. Sheeran. One of the themes we are hearing this week is that the world should not be too reliant on food aid and what we have to do is for farmers to be self-sufficient. In light of that I was just curious about the future of WFP. How will you adapt to this world where self-sufficiency is paramount and food aid is less so? Will you adapt? Should you adapt?

Ms. Sheeran: WFP will always be needed in emergencies, such as storms and conflicts and natural disasters. We really hope for the day when we will not be needed to deal with the kind of chronic hunger that plagues the world. In fact the answer here, and the humanity's challenge, is figuring out how to ensure affordable access to food and fuel for all the world's citizens. This is the only way we will ever break the back of poverty and hunger. First I want to thank Canada, because as one of the nations that responded to our extraordinary emergency appeal, as you all know with the aggressive pattern in price increases, WFP was able to fill this cup. Twenty million children received pretty much the only food they get every day with 40% less food with the same contribution, just over an eight-month period of time. So we put out an extraordinary appeal to make sure that the world's most vulnerable, who literally have often no access to food were able to at least keep their basic supply, for the three million people in Darfur region and others. As you know we met that appeal. Canada was a key contributor but not only it contributed, but changed the entire contribution to all cash, which allows us the flexibility to respond to hunger most appropriately in a given situation. One of the factors of the new face of hunger is we are often seeing market places with food, and people are simply priced out of the market. I was just in Myanmar, and I was in one area of the delta where there is food in the markets but people are cut off in their livelihoods, their jobs are cut off, they can't get to work, they are rebuilding their houses and we are deploying the first emergency cash operation, where we are supplying people with 50 cents a day to be able to buy their cups of rice rather than supplying the rice itself. So, in our Board meeting next week we will approve a new strategic plan, we hope, that we have been building with our UN partners, to really recognize a toolbox that can be sensitive to the conditions causing hunger and so, when appropriate, we will use local purchase. Eighty per cent of our cash today is used to purchase food in the developing world. This can be a powerful way to actually solve hunger while you are meeting the urgent needs of the most vulnerable but also, when appropriate, to look at cash and vouchers and also, when appropriate, to look at working with local farmers and our UN partners such as FAO, to use food for work to rebuild the agricultural infrastructure, irrigation, roads. So, just to get an example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo this year we tripled our local purchase, we were able to complete 3,500 km of roads for farmers to get access to markets and we did this with food as an incentive, therefore solving some of the core problems of hunger. I do want to thank the world because we are able to announce today that we are deploying an additional 1.2 billion dollars to sixty of the most vulnerable nations, given the generous response to the emergency appeal, and this will reach about 75 million people who are made terribly vulnerable with the high prices, and so we are seeing people that have cut out nutrition from their diets now for the past six months and really are in urgent need. So we are able to deploy that and you will see some cash programs ?food in the shelf as appropriate.

Moderator: At this point I would like to ask Mr. Bage to make a contribution because IFAD is an important partner with all the rest of us in this endeavour.

Mr. Bage: Thank you very much. Yes indeed, this is very much about us working as a system. We cannot beat the crisis on our own, we have to come together and the leadership of the Secretary-General has been crucial in doing that. The role of IFAD is both to be involved in immediate input support for the next cropping season, together with FAO, World Bank, WFP and other partners, but also the only one specifically engaged with investment in agriculture to look at the longer term, because the message coming out here is that we need to deal with the urgent crises but in order not to have urgent crises also tomorrow, we need to invest long-term in agriculture. We reengage with the sector that has been neglected for 25 years or more and that needs to be much higher in productivity and production in order to serve the needs. What we are doing: immediately, already in April, we satisfied 200 million dollars for immediate reprogramming to meet food support needs for the next cropping season: seeds, fertilizers, tools. We are working now very closely to program that in Haiti, in a number of African countries and some Asian countries. We are also of course looking at the longer term and let me also welcome very much the announcement by the Director General of the FAO of the support from the Islamic Development Bank. They are a key partner also for us and I welcome that strong support very much. For us if we look to the five-year period, this year, five years hence, we are deploying close to 5 billion dollars in investments, in agricultural productivity based on small holder farming which is the backbone of the farming system in most developing countries and when there is a need to tap the potential of significantly higher productivity. Small farmers can be the answer not only to food security but also to development poverty reduction and actually, some natural resources manage these in a more climate friendly way giving the right incentives and the right support for that. So, it's important to see these inter-linkage between various issues and incidentally these close to 5 billion dollars and the normal co-financing we get with our partners: the OPEC fund, the regional banks, the World bank, the Islamic Development Bank and others we could probably see over the 5 years of programme of close to 10 billion dollars which is part of the solution, we are all working together as a system and the sceneries are coming forward and in the comprehensive framework of action that will be finalized, I hope, as soon as possible we can see the immediate effects of working as well as the longer term and walk on two legs; both the perspectives are crucial for us to resolve this crisis for now and for tomorrow. Thank you.

Q: A question for Mr. Secretary-General. What are your comments on the latest statements made by the Iranian President in which he points out the dollar speculation and criticizes the UN administration?

SG: I recognize the concerns expressed by many governments today over the impact of high level oil prices on world food prices and on all other aspects of our lives. The price of oil has contributed significantly to the price rise of food - there is no doubt about that. It has also affected the cost of transportation. However it is important to remind ourselves that the high food prices are a symptom of much larger and bigger [inaudible] yet to come and therefore we need to address the issue at the same time. I think that boosting food production and increasing this productivity is much more necessary at this time. As for this specific question, it is important to look at some broader aspects of the energy security issue, including petroleum oil prices. And I am going to discuss with some Member States on how to address this issue together with the food crisis as well as oil prices issues.

Q: J'aimerais savoir si le problème que se pose effectivement pour l'Afrique concernant la crise alimentaire ne se pose pas au niveau de la gestion de la methode de cette manque de ces fonds qui sont diriges vers l'Afrique pour le développement agricole. Par ailleurs j'aimerais savoir quelle est la part des gouvernements africains dans cette crise dans la gestion de cette crise selon vous. Beaucoup de pays africains ont demandé que ces institutions des Nations Unies qui s'occupent souvent qui concerne particulièrement l'Afrique soient déplacées en Afrique. Quelle est votre position sur cette demande?.

SG: There are many reasons that have caused this food crisis. Of course one of the reasons may be some mismanagement of the national governments, but there are clearly some more important reasons: the change of consumption patterns; increasing demand for food as well as petroleum price rise, climate change-related issues and there are many such issues that have to be addressed in a comprehensive way. Of course I would say that good governance, good management of national government policy in terms of agriculture would be very much important. In that regard everybody admits that there has been less investment in the past for this agricultural production. That is exactly why, when I chaired this MDG Africa Steering Group, this issue was one of the priority issues, and we have discussed how to promote agriculture product in Africa through Africa Green revolution. I don't think this is a matter of future organizations. We have very good Rome-based organizations, FAO, WFP and IFAD, supported by the United Nations family system together with the Bretton Woods institutions, led by World Bank and IMF. We are working as one. This is exactly what we have been promoting. As you see we are now sitting together, as one team, therefore, rather than talking about organizational issues or some management issues, or in particular any national government, at this time this is an issue which any single country or organization can handle, however powerful, however resourceful one country may be. We need a very collective, concerted effort. That is why we are gathered here today.

Q: Mr. Diouf , there seems to be a contradiction. There is a lot of talk about cooperation to work together, at the same time there is a strong push for the trade organization. In speaking with many delegates in developing countries, many see that as a continuation of the IMF policy, some even call it a colonial policy of only exporting to richer markets. In Europe there is also a spirit of defence of the common agricultural policy. Will it not be better to encourage this type of cooperation, which you are speaking about, to guarantee self-sufficiency among nations as opposed to leaving the situation to the market, which is subject to speculation, distortion and cleaning up the mess afterwards, which the market policy has created?

Mr. Diouf: As the Secretary General indicated, this is a complex, multifaceted issue. First there is one clear identified problem: it is the fact that low-income deficit countries -the majority are developing countries - have not received enough investments, have not received enough technology, have not received enough inputs, have not received enough infrastructure, to be able to produce effectively under the conditions of this?There are countries that with 2 to 4% of the population are able to produce and export, while other countries, with 60 to 80% of their population are unable to produce enough to feed that population. Therefore we are addressing that problem, how on a short term to provide them with seeds, with fertilizers and other inputs whose prices are going up: 98% for fertilizers, 72% for seeds, 60% for animal feed. How can we allow them to produce? How can we truly search increased investment in the international agricultural research centres to allow the development of proper technologies and inputs to respond to the needs? These are some of the fundamental issues of supply response, and elasticity of supply response in relation to agriculture. On the other hand you have the demand, and we are very happy that certain countries are making progress and that their people are able to eat more and to get better, to try to reach the levels that are adequate. Some developing countries are far above these levels of consumption. But then you have the whole question of where the demand and supply meet, and the factors that affect these demand and supply on a market, which are the subsidies, the barriers, the technical barriers to trade, and naturally all the property rights in relation to seeds and so on that are the ? aspects of the agreement. So, we have all those issues, we cannot say one of them has to be corrected and then everything is solved. We have to look at the holistic dimension of the problem and on a priority basis, we have to help farmers in this season when the planting will end in July to get access to these, and on a longer term to allow them to have rural infrastructure and adequate inputs for increasing their productivity. Thank you.