New York

11 April 2012

Secretary-General's message to high-level thematic debate of the General Assembly on Excessive Price Volatility in Food and Related Financial and Commodity Markets [delivered by Mr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development

I thank the President of the General Assembly for scheduling this timely debate on the very important question of food price volatility.  I would also like to commend His Excellency Dr. Leonel Fernández Reyna, President of the Dominican Republic, for his initiative in focusing the Assembly’s attention on this matter.
After two decades of falling food prices and reduced public investments in food-related agriculture, the structural problems in the world’s food systems became apparent in 2006.  Since then, fears have risen about insufficient supply to meet the growing demand.  Such worries have been compounded by the growing impacts of climate change, since more unpredictable weather also makes agricultural production and prices more erratic and unstable.  Some major food exporting nations have reduced their exports, reducing supplies sharply.  Prices started to rise and many food importers have had to pay much more for food commodities.  
Full-blown crisis conditions may have ebbed somewhat, but fundamental problems remain, and the negative consequences are clear to all.  The rise in world prices pushed the number of hungry people to over one billion, and helped push millions of households below the poverty line.  Volatile prices have created major difficulties for smallholders, who often have to take unacceptable risks.  Consumers are increasingly at risk of sudden drops in purchasing power, leading almost immediately to damaging reductions in the consumption of nutritious foods, especially by women and girls. This, in turn, can impair child nutrition during the first 1000 days of life, leading to stunting and a greater likelihood of future poverty and vulnerability, harming not just individuals, but entire societies.
This situation is unacceptable. Food is a basic right. Food and nutritional security are the foundations of a decent life. Action to curb food price volatility is essential.  The priority for agriculture should be to produce the nutritious food that people need and ensure that it is accessible to them at all times.
The UN system is working together to address the structural challenges in world food systems. Since 2008, my High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, through our system-wide Comprehensive Framework for Action, has promoted a twin-track approach: increasing production and ensuring access to social protection and safety nets.  We are also working closely with the G20 and the Committee on World Food Security, and recommending to these groups that international oversight and analysis of food commodity and futures markets be strengthened so that speculation and the drive for quick financial gain do not exacerbate volatility.  One concrete step has been the development of an Advance Market Information System to help reduce risk.
Today’s meeting is a critical occasion for Member States to take stock of the situation and consider what more they can do to address the factors that contribute to food price volatility and undermine people’s ability to enjoy their right to food and to good nutrition.  Let us, together, continue our vital work to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal – and all others that depend on it.