Press Conference by Coordinator of Task Force on Global Food Security Crisis

16 January 2009

Press Conference by Coordinator of Task Force on Global Food Security Crisis

16 January 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY coordinator of task force


on global food security crisis


The Coordinator of the United Nations High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis warned today that, while there had been significant progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, efforts to meet the very first of those eight targets –- significantly reducing poverty and hunger by 2015 -- were being threatened by volatile commodity prices, climate change and warfare.

“Access to food for millions of people remains uncertain [and] the fact that 14 per cent of the world either went to bed at night or woke up every morning hungry was unsatisfactory and a representation of ongoing crisis,” David Nabarro said, announcing that, in response, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Rodriguez Zapatero planned to co-chair a high-level meeting in Madrid at the end of the month. 

Briefing reporters at Headquarters this afternoon, he said the 26 to 27 January meeting on “Food Security for All” would gather Governments, private entities and civil society groups to examine progress on improvements in food security, define a road map for the future and tackle hunger more effectively.  Mr. Nabarro is an Assistant Secretary-General and also serves as Senior United Nations Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza.  He was appointed by Secretary-General Ban to the Task Force on 1 January.

He said that the Madrid meeting followed on the objectives and commitments set during the Rome Summit convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) this past June, at what many considered the peak of the volatility in global commodity markets.  In Rome, Governments had pledged to alleviate the suffering caused by soaring food prices, stimulate agricultural development and food production, and address obstacles to food access. 

The high-level meeting in Madrid was part of the growing international effort to raise the political profile of the global food security crisis, Mr. Nabarro said, noting that the event was expected to open with a stocktaking of what had occurred since the June meeting on such issues as concerted action to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, the degree to which global hunger was being addressed and whether increased funds were being made available to support smallholder agriculture and food security.

Participants would also examine challenges going forward, including:  improving working methods at the country-level; translating current analysis and research into programme strategies; linking private sector civil society and Government actors within the joint effort to meet food needs; reinvigorating agricultural systems; and increasing investment in agriculture.  He said that on the second day of the meeting, a number of formal commitments and initiatives were likely to be announced.

Progress was also expected in setting a framework for a global partnership for food security, bringing together Governments, regional bodies, civil society, businesses, international agencies, development banks and donors.  He also expected Secretary-General Ban and Prime Minister Zapatero to map out the way forward on food security, with a view towards reducing or reversing increased hunger and ensuring more sustained resources to address the issue. 

Responding to questions, Mr. Nabarro said that although food prices had come down significantly in recent months, the food systems in the world had been, and would continue to be, in crisis until the international community was able to agree on and implement mechanisms that worked in the interest of poor people and smallholder farmers much better than they did now.  The way things stood, prices could begin to spiral up again quite easily and small farmers would be unable to afford the seeds and fertilizer they needed to produce adequate food and take advantage of evolving market circumstances.  At the same time, biofuel production must not limit the extent to which poor people are able to access the food they needed without being uncertain of supply or price.

To address such issues, the Task Force was calling for Governments, donors and other stakeholders to adopt a twin-track approach which addressed the needs of the hungry and also reinvested in agriculture, markets and social protection systems.  “To prevent continuing crises and exacerbations, we would like to see major efforts to invest in agricultural development, as has been called for by national Governments, regional organizations like the African Union, and members of the UN System High-Level Task Force, including FAO, IFAD, the World Bank and IMF, as well as many NGOs and research groups,” he said. 

Even though commodity prices had come down in the last three months, Mr. Nabarro said, the costs were still higher than normal levels, making the need to take action more urgent than ever.  Moreover, the current economic slowdown and credit crunch were likely to exacerbate food insecurity for those without jobs, or who already lacked resources to buy food or access to food supplies. 

To a correspondent who asked if the current economic downturn had effected the pledges that had been made in Rome, he said most of the countries that had made commitments at that meeting had followed up, just slower than had been expected.  The World Bank had made major investments in food security within the last eight months; strong support has been provided by the regional development banks and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).  He said the Task Force gave “a gold star” to the European Community, which had pledged $1 billion and had followed through on that.  Also, the United States had made a “good strong pledge” to bolster emergency food supplies, and Saudi Arabia, together with other nations, had provided strong support to the World Food Programme to enable a response to an increasing number of beneficiaries during 2008.  Increased support will be needed for agriculture and food security in 2009.

Answering other queries, he noted that, over the past 30 years, development assistance earmarked for agricultural development had dropped significantly and was now down, from 15 to 20 per cent, to just 2 or 3 per cent of overall official development assistance (ODA).  However, as the international community had been made aware of the crisis, that trend had started to shift.  “It’s a tough time for all of our work,” he added, noting that before making commitments, donors wanted to be sure that agencies were maximizing efficiency, coordinating better, and  making the most of existing development assistance.

Mr. Nabarro said that biofuel production remained a concern, and although there had been some controversy over how influential it had been in sparking the commodity price hikes earlier in 2008, there was no doubt that it had played some part.  He emphasized that the Task Force’s position was not that producing biofuels was wrong, but that there needed to be increased attention by Governments and groups of Governments on the impact of such production on small farmers; more research and development on second and third generation biofuels; and special care, at all times, to the needs of the hungry.

He went on to say that the business sector should be part of the solution and the Task Force worked closely with that sector to find ways to improve the productivity and profitability of smallholder agriculture.  He added that there were some “exciting and inspiring” advances being made by some companies involved in seed production and fertilizers, as well as in support for processing technologies and other ways to add value to the produce after it had been harvested.  Companies that were attentive to the needs of small farmers were very important partners, he said.

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