21 May 2008


21 May 2008
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Economic and Social Council

Special Meeting on Global Food Crisis

8th Meeting (PM)




Accelerated assistance to support agricultural development, changes in trade regimes for agricultural commodities and the need for a re-examination of biofuel production and other structural issues were the focus this afternoon as the Economic and Social Council considered the global food crisis for a second day.

As the Council continued its special meeting, many delegates spoke of the deprivation caused by soaring food prices and warned of their effects, including food riots, with the representative of the Philippines stressing that the crisis involved nothing less than the continuation of life itself.

He appealed for action rising to the seriousness of the crisis, and called for a long-delayed transfer of technology by industrialized nations as well as a reversal of reductions recently made in agricultural research.  In particular, research on insect resistant rice alone could save millions of lives a year.  Japan’s representative, however, said his country was focusing on new varieties of rice that could greatly increase yields, particularly in Africa.

As in yesterday’s discussion, most speakers agreed on the need for both emergency and long-term measures, coordinated by the United Nations, to address the crisis.  Small farmers in developing countries must be helped to increase their productivity through the provision of seeds, fertilizer, technical assistance and improved agricultural infrastructure.

Many speakers also focused on critiques of the international systems of distribution; declining official development assistance and the imbalance in the current international trade regime, which was tilted against developing countries; the dominance of large food producers and distributors; and agricultural subsidies in industrialized countries, which had created artificially low prices for their food exports against which farmers in the developing world could not compete. 

Meanwhile, representatives from developed countries spoke of increasing emergency aid, particularly to meet the shortfalls in assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP), and targeted development initiatives in response to the crisis.  Many representatives of both developed and developing countries stressed the need to rethink the production of biofuels, saying they used up land, water and other resources needed for food.

Colombia’s representative, however, said fuel prices were a big factor in pushing up food prices and generalizations about biofuel production could be misleading.  Colombia produced biofuel from crops like sugarcane and palm oil which did not entail replacing food crops grown on fertile land or reducing the national food supply.  On the contrary, biofuel production had dynamized the agricultural sector, generating thousands of new rural jobs, stimulating investment, research and technological development, and promoting higher productivity in under-utilized lands.

Other speakers also pointed out distinctions between biofuels produced from grains, such as corn-derived ethanol in the United States, and those produced from other vegetable sources.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Indonesia, Egypt, Canada, Tunisia, India, Norway, Malta, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Algeria, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Iceland, Guinea, Malawi, Viet Nam, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Luxembourg, Congo, Bolivia, Republic of Korea, Cape Verde and China.

The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 22 May, to conclude its special session on the global food crisis.


The representative of Japan, stressing that the United Nations should take the role of coordinating a unified global response, welcomed initiatives that had already been announced and said his country would be hosting a major meeting on African development in Yokohama next week.  Japan urged that all initiatives be time-bound within a comprehensive action plan that took a human-centred approach.  While the country would be increasing its emergency aid, long-term agricultural production must also be a priority and Japan was ready to take the lead role in helping Africa double its production of rice with new varieties and other technology.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said that the crisis was just the “canary in the coal mine” for future disasters, adding that food scarcity had already led to riots and instability in the Caribbean.  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines would continue to assist its fellow Caribbean Community (CARICOM) members States by providing seeds, fertilizer and other assistance in boosting local agricultural and fishery production.  However, such local measures were only partly ameliorative, and it was crucial to address the global issues of unfair trade rules, climate change, the diversion of crops for biofuel production and subsidies.  All developed States and oil producers had special roles to play, and the greatest polluters should bear responsibility for climate change and other harm wrought by over-consumption.

The representative of Indonesia said the crisis had complex causes and required the implementation of a multi-pronged strategy, including both emergency aid and a global platform for food security.  For that purpose, food polices must be re-examined at the national and international levels and an early warning system on food crises instituted.  Indonesia welcomed the Secretary-General’s Task Force and stressed that Member States must have adequate input as envisioned.  A United Nations road map and plan of action was needed, and the crisis must be seen as a golden opportunity to revamp the agricultural sector.

The representative of Egypt, emphasizing the development aspect of the crisis, said that ignoring food shortages and other factors of the past three years had worsened the current problem.  It should now be much more urgent to redress trade-rule inequities and other international structural problems while redoubling efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  Commitments must be kept and concrete action taken on an immediate, medium- and long-term basis.  Meanwhile, immediate and full funding must be provided for the needs of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

The representative of Canada also highlighted the link between addressing the food crisis and meeting the Millennium Development Goals, saying his country was increasing its food aid and removing restrictions on where such aid was procured, thereby encouraging local production.  It was imperative that long-term work be carried out on the basis of a better understanding of all the factors involved in creating the food crisis, with particular attention being given to the problems of fragile States.

The representative of Tunisia noted that many factors had converged to worsen the food crisis, which was of particular concern in Africa.  In order to address that challenge, the President of Tunisia had appealed to oil producing countries to combine their efforts to protect humanity from the risk of food shortages by paying $1 for every barrel of oil they sold into the Global Solidarity Fund set up by the General Assembly in 2002 to help ensure the Millennium Development Goals were achieved.  The right to food was synonymous with the right to life.

The representative of India said the combination of lower food prices and high fuel prices in the past had encouraged the conversion of land to the biofuel production.  The crucial issue at the moment was that, for the first time, there was a direct link between the prices of oil and food -- a disturbing situation that made policy planning difficult.  In addition, speculators seeking to capitalize on high food prices were now likely to cause that bubble to burst, bringing down food prices.  India took issue with the prescription that developing countries must end food export restrictions, which had been put in place for market reasons that had been responsible, or partly responsible, for the crisis in the first place.

The representative of Norway said the global food crisis placed a heavy and often unjust economic burden on developing economies and it was in everybody’s interest to avoid that.  It seemed clear that the underlying causes of the rapidly increasing food prices were mostly long-term in nature, yet their most dramatic effects were immediate and urgent.  The response must include immediate as well as long-term initiatives.  Among the urgent measures suggested so far, Norway had taken action to counter the humanitarian consequences in Africa, pledging the equivalent of $20 million for that purpose, of which $12 million would be allocated to the activities of WFP in the Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe.  Eight million dollars would be allocated to Government and institutions in the most severely affected African countries to fund national plans and initiatives.

The representative of Malta said the international community must ensure that farmers were given all necessary assistance and facilities to produce their own food by lowering the increasing costs of pesticides and transport.  Climate change was also a heavy deterrent to food supply, leading to high prices, increased poverty and malnutrition, food insecurity, hunger and famine.  Malta looked forward to a successful outcome of the FAO Summit to be held in Rome.  The food situation called for an effective response led by the United Nations as it was an international crisis requiring a coordinated international response.

The representative of Colombia said the food crisis provided further evidence of the importance of addressing imbalances in the international trading system.  Those imbalances had notably discouraged agricultural investment and development in developing countries.  It was also a priority to analyse aspects of the growing global energy demand and the impact of the increase in oil prices on food prices.  That increase, which had been close to 400 per cent in the last seven years, had affected the cost of transportation and other basic inputs for food production.  Consequently, there were pressing reasons to accelerate the efforts of the international community in favour of renewable energy alternatives.  Generalizations regarding the production and use of biofuels could be misleading.  Colombia’s biofuel production stemming from crops like sugarcane and palm oil had not entailed replacing food crops grown on fertile land or reducing the national food supply.  On the contrary, biofuel production had dynamized the agricultural sector, generating thousands of new rural jobs, stimulating investment, research and technological development, and promoting higher productivity in under-utilized lands.

The representative of New Zealand, agreeing on the need for short-, medium- and long-term measures, proposed the relaxation of export restrictions and import tariffs, where appropriate.  For that reason, it was even more important than ever to bring about a successful conclusion to the Doha trade talks.  In the next few weeks, New Zealand would be discussing how best to contribute to the necessary global action plan on food security.

The representative of Nicaragua said her Government was taking immediate action, in coordination with its development partners, to implement a plan intended to increase agricultural productivity.  It was crucial that the General Assembly hold a special debate on the food crisis because most of its membership was affected by the crisis and a radical change was needed in the world agricultural trade order.  The FAO Rome Conference would also provide an opportunity to address the issue.

The representative of the Philippines said the food crisis involved the very continuation of life itself, and appealed for action that rose to the seriousness of the crisis.  Most urgently, it was vital to reverse the cuts recently made in agricultural research, especially on insect resistant rice, which could save millions of lives per year.

The representative of Honduras, subscribing to yesterday’s statement by Mexico on behalf of the Rio Group and the framework outlined by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the crisis had many facets and angles, including topics that had been debated for years, such as technology transfer and a fair trading regime.  It was to be hoped that such issues could be resolved in favour of starving children.  Honduras was accelerating measures to achieve the Millennium Development Goals for the sake of those living in poverty who would be the first victims of the soaring prices.  Efforts to achieve the Millennium Goals must be accelerated worldwide or they would become “beautiful dreams and only dreams”.

The representative of El Salvador stressed the need to support medium-income countries and to beef up political dialogue in the area of farm subsidies.  Regional action was particularly important, and far-reaching solutions must be developed to enable the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.  El Salvador had land available but not the necessary technology to enable it to become self-sufficient in many necessary crops.

The representative of Algeria said his country was a net importer of food and was therefore deeply concerned about the crisis, which was a symptom of structural problems in the world economy.  Those problems included the monopoly held by large corporations in certain commodities and the discouraging of local food production in favour of factory production in developed countries and specialty crops in developing ones.  It was time to make the right to food an international principle in order to help redress those and other deficiencies.

The representative of Jamaica said that, in charting the way forward, long-term investment in agriculture at the national, regional and international levels was critical if the international community was serious about addressing the food crisis and avoiding a relapse.  As far as possible, countries should strive to produce in order to satisfy domestic consumption at the very minimum.  The timely and successful conclusion of the Doha round of trade negotiations, while ensuring the fullest realization of the development dimension of the Doha Work Programme, was vital.  Unless the global trade regime was reformed in a manner that would afford developing countries the opportunity to compete on a more level playing field, the livelihoods of poor farmers would remain in jeopardy and rural development would be undermined.

The representative of Kazakhstan said the problem of hunger had taken on a new face and many countries were now encountering that problem.  The Kazakhstan Government’s measures to ensure food security at home included allocating food from its reserves and storing it close to major towns in case there was a crisis.  The country had also imposed a temporary ban on the export of corn until the next harvest season in order to satisfy domestic needs.  Kazakhstan also had major potential with regard to livestock production on which it was also focusing.  The food crisis and soaring prices could only be overcome through the combined effort of the international community.

The representative of Iceland said that, in order to tackle the food crisis, all Governments must take appropriate actions.  Iceland would play its part and had already responded to the extraordinary appeal launched by WFP.  An active role for women was of paramount importance in fighting the food crisis.  The international community must also look for sustainability in addressing the crisis, including through fighting off land degradation, which had been exacerbated by climate change.

The representative of Guinea said that his country had implemented significant measures to tackle the impact of the crisis, including the creation of a national food security council.  It had also created a partnership between the private and public sectors with the aim of increasing food production.  Other actions included the establishment of funds for financing agricultural undertakings, and the launching of a national action plan on climate change.  Guinea welcomed the high-level meeting of the Manu River Union, held last week in Monrovia, which had considered the food crisis.

The representative of Malawi said collective and urgent action under the leadership of the United Nations was needed to address the crisis.  National Governments needed to take bold decisions aimed at achieving food security.  Malawi had been subsidizing the cost of agricultural inputs in an approach that had resulted in increased production.  Its efforts included the scaling up of extension services, an extensive farmer training programme and investment in irrigation as part of an integrated rural development programme.  Its aim was to reduce the cost of food by increasing production.

The representative of Viet Nam said the food crisis had made basic staples unaffordable for many people around the world, especially in developing countries.  Viet Nam had seen a doubling in the price of rice and the Government had responded by putting in place a new policy to restore the situation.  The country had just recorded a bumper harvest in the Mekong Delta which would enable it to meet domestic needs and still meet its export commitments.  Given the complex and multidimensional nature of the crisis, a comprehensive response was required.  Viet Nam called on donor organizations and developed countries to implement the commitments they had made to support capacity-building in agriculture.

The representative of the Dominican Republic said that in his country the food crisis was combining with other factors to threaten the economy and social stability.  For that reason, the President had suggested the creation of a world food solidarity fund and a world fuel assistance fund to protect the most vulnerable people in net importing countries.  It would be funded by industries that had benefited from booms and countries that had reduced their development assistance.

The representative of Cuba said factors behind the food crisis included rising oil prices, climate change and the growing and reckless diversion from food production to biofuel production.  The starting point for a discussion of biofuels would have to be the exclusion of basic grains and cereals from such diversion.  Wasteful consumerism in the industrialized world, in addition to trade liberalization, reduction in official development assistance commitments, agricultural subsidies, lack of public food reserves and corporate control of the food trade had all contributed to the crisis.  An introspective analysis of the world economic and trade order must be conducted and the necessary changes made.

The representative of Luxembourg, associating himself with the European Union, welcomed the central role that the Economic and Social Council was playing in assuring a coherent United Nations response to the crisis.  It was important to provide aid that was not counter-productive and, in that light, Luxembourg had increased its emergency aid to WFP and stepped up cooperation with its development partners for long-term development.  The crisis must be used to eradicate hunger, a scourge that should no longer exist.

The representative of the Congo said the crisis went even deeper than the food riots, and made one ask what had resulted from all the food security and sustainable development commitments made over the past decades.  Agricultural research, biodiversity conservation and trade policy reform were all necessary to stem the crisis.  The Government of the Congo had acted to readjust tax policy and price and trade controls while creating purchasing centres, among other measures.

The representative of Bolivia, associating himself with the Rio Group and the Group of 77 and China, said biofuel production was aggravating the food crisis by taking away valuable land and water from food production and should be reconsidered.  In addition, an agricultural revolution must take place and include cooperative farming.  People must demand food sovereignty so they could control their own nutrition.  The means of agriculture production had for too long been held in too great a measure by the wealthy.

The representative of the Republic of Korea said the United Nations, in cooperation with the Bretton Woods institutions, must take the lead in the international response to the crisis.  A short-, medium- and long-term approach was needed, while immediate steps were taken to unblock distribution bottlenecks.  As a country that had overcome widespread hunger, the Republic of Korea was willing to contribute to resolving the crisis and help ensure food security.

The representative of Cape Verde said world food supply was no longer keeping up with demand and the international community must find ways to lead a global response to the problem.  The food crisis was a global challenge that threatened peace and security and, as such, required global solutions which would only be possible through joint efforts.  Part of the solution to the global food crisis lay in ensuring the integration of Africa into any efforts to resolve the crisis as the Millennium Development Goals were at risk.  While the Government of Cape Verde had taken measures to alleviate the impact of the food crisis, it counted on international solidarity to enable it to face the challenge while avoiding instability.

The representative of China said there were complicated reasons behind the soaring food prices, but addressing the crisis was a shared responsibility of the international community.  China called for more efforts to boost food support to the poor and for Member States to invest more in agriculture while also increasing agriculture related inputs.  Developed countries should help developing ones build up their agricultural capacities.  In addition, concerted effort should be made to bring the Doha round to a conclusion.  In all those efforts, it was necessary to give full play to the role of the United Nations.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.