Thursday, November 19, 2009

UN Food Summit; No where to Go

With more than 1 billion people going hungry, the Food and Agriculture Organisation had called the Food summit on November 16-18 in Rome, hoping to win firm pledges by world leaders to spend $44 billion a year to help poor nations feed themselves. The World Summit on Food Security comes a year after major rises in food prices caused chaos in many developing countries. Food shortages and malnutrition rose to the top of the political agenda since a spike in food prices since last years parked riots in around 60 countries, mainly blamed to speculation and hoarding. Alongside the whole world is getting the heat of global warming in the form of wide variability in weather condition, drought, flood, cyclones etc., affecting food production and lastly adding to the woes of food and nutritional security. There has been a 12-13 per cent decline in crop output this kharif season due to long dry spells in some parts of the country and floods in some other areas. This year, the output of all major crops has gone down, including principal crops such as foodgrain, fibres and oilseeds and to some extent sugarcane, except cotton in India.

But a final draft declaration includes only a general commitment to pump more money into agricultural development, and makes no mention of a proposal to eliminate hunger by 2025. Even in the very first opening day of the summit many critics, mainly from the African nations described the Food Summit as wasteful and ineffective. The meeting was branded a failure within a couple of hours of its start after the 192 participating countries unanimously rebuffed the United Nations' appeal for commitments of billions of dollars in yearly aid to develop agriculture in poor nations. None of the leaders of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations attended except for Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

FAO in its publication observed that the financial crisis has its origin far from the agricultural sector and far from the developing countries, where its most devastating effects on the poorest segments of the population are being felt.

According to FAO, the number of hungry people rose to 1.02 billion people, more than at any other time in history and up 100 million from last year. A child dies of malnutrition every six seconds despite the fact that the world produces more than enough food for everybody; cereals crops in 2009 are expected to be the second largest ever, after a record 2008.

As per the Indian stand the climate change and its adverse impact on foodgrains production, and food security in particular, would be aggressively taken up at the summit. Our agriculture minister would raise the issue of limitations of technology on increasing foodgrain production given the availability of land and water.

FAO had hoped to keep the momentum going and that leaders would commit to raising the percentage of official aid spent on agriculture to 17% back to the 1980 level from 5% now. That would amount to roughly $44 billion annually, instead of the $7.9 billion that is being spent now.

A comprehensive spectrum of measures to combat a scourge gravely exacerbated by climate change and population growth is needed. This includes food aid, safety nets, social protection, increased investments in agricultural development, better market access, and fairer trade for smallholder farmers, especially women.

Previous food summits and meetings have been long on rhetoric and short on concrete action, and whatever promises were made have gone largely unfulfilled. In 2000, world leaders subscribed to the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of hungry people by 2015, and this Food Summit will reaffirm commitment to that target. Even UN officials acknowledge that aim will not be met anytime soon, with some pointing to mid-2040 at the earliest.

The argument is that there is enough availability of foodgrain and food in the world. However, it is skewed. Promoting investments and infrastructure development in agriculture sector should also be taken to the forefront. There is a need to step up investments in agriculture with the dual purpose of stimulating sustainable productivity increases to expand supply and of exploiting the potential of agriculture for contributing to economic development and poverty alleviation in the least developed countries.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Abid Hussain,
    I recently read your post, "UN Food Summit; No where to Go" about the lack of substantial guidelines in the aftermath of the 2009 World Summit on Food. I think you will find the following video relevant to your post:
    The video provides multiple source news coverage on the aftermath of the UN Food Summit in Rome, Italy. As you know, leaders from all over the
    world met to discuss the importance of ending world hunger, yet as the three day summit came to an end few legitimate strides had been made. The video addresses important questions such as, who should be responsible for addressing world hunger first? Should developing nations be expected to set a global example? And, was the world summit still a success despite the lack of measurable targets and guidelines? I hope you will consider embedding the video into your post on Kheti Bari. Perhaps it can help open up the conversation as we observe different reactions to the summit. videos analyze and synthesize news coverage of important
    domestic and global issues from multiple sources. Its unique method of
    presenting how different media outlets are covering a story provides context to help viewers understand complex issues such as this.
    Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have,