Leaders from 50 countries are scheduled to gather in Rome this week to discuss ways of helping millions of people who face starvation because of surging food prices.
The summit, hosted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is aimed at winning donor pledges for urgent aid and also to generate longer term strategies to safeguard food production. Presidents Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Nikolas Sarkozy of France together with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, are among the leaders scheduled to attend the summit. On the agenda are ways to deal with the threat to poor nations’ food security posed by climate change and bio-energy production - when food crops are used as alternative fuels to more expensive or polluting petroleum products.
This year’s food import bill for developing countries is expected to reach $169 billion, marking a 40% increase over 2007, FAO said. “The current dramatic world food situation reminds us of the fragility of the balance between global food supplies and the needs of the worlds inhabitants, and of the fact that earlier commitments to accelerate progress towards the eradication of hunger have not been met,” FAO Director-General, Jacques Diouf, said. Poor food buyers in the cities and non-food producers in rural areas who spend a large share of their incomes on food are those suffering most from the price hike, according to FAO. The situation, which is exacerbated by rising fuel prices, is also threatening social stability in developing countries, dozens of which have experienced food riots since the beginning of the year. In a report prepared for the Rome summit, FAO listed 22 countries that are particularly vulnerable due to a combination of high levels of chronic hunger - more than 30% undernourishment - and being net importers of both food and fuel. Countries such as Eritrea, Niger, Comoros, Haiti and Liberia are particularly affected.
The FAO report also identified a series of possible interventions, including direct food distribution, food subsidies and cash transfers, as well as nutritional programs, such as school feeding and measures to help pregnant women and the elderly. These emergency measures require $775 million to finance them, according to a donor appeal issued by another Rome-based UN agency, the World Food Program (WFP).
FAO also mentioned as a short-term response, measures such as the distribution to small-scale farmers of seeds, fertilizers, animal feed and other inputs through vouchers or other forms of subsidies. “If implemented effectively, such a program will increase the supply response in poor countries and thus, improve food availability, increase the income of small producers and may reduce price increases in local markets,” FAO said in a statement. FAO says $1.7 billion in donor aid is required for the program.
Activists groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) plan to hold a ‘parallel’ summit in Rome to protest what they say are policies of the world’s most developed nations responsible for the current crisis. “Industrialized nations and the industrialization of agriculture are mostly responsible for producing greenhouse gases and global warming, but it is peasants, fishermen and rural communities, that are the first to be harmed, organizers of the parallel or ‘counter’” summit said in a statement. (m&c.com)