Leaders prepare policies for combating food crisis

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food, Food security, 2007–2008 world food price crisis, Agriculture

A three-pronged approach including stepping up scientific research
and embracing innovative technology will help combat new food
challenges, says US secretary of agriculture, Ed Schafer.

His proposals will be made at the World Food Security conference, which is organized by the Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO) of the United Nations and begins tomorrow. The conference is aimed at addressing food supply and security issues, rising food prices, and poverty reduction in the face of climate change and energy security. It will be attended by many heads of state and governments, as well as the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. Attendees will assess the challenges faced by the food and agriculture sectors from climate change and bioenergy in order to ways to safeguard food security. World leaders will be taking their own strategies and proposals to the conference, but there is some concern on how seriously some leaders will take the summit, with criticism mounting on the fact Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe will be present. Also, environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth (FOE) has warned today against "false solutions to the current global food crisis that will push millions more people into hunger". US proposals ​ Speaking at a press conference, Schafer said the US strategy for combating rising global prices, which he hopes to be embraced by other leaders at the meeting, is firstly to focus on "immediate and expanded humanitarian assistance on countries unable to meet minimum nutrition standards"​. Secondly, Schafer proposes supporting measures that will help "developing countries that have the capacity to rapidly increase production and availability of staple foods". ​And thirdly, the US will propose that all countries seek strategies that "expand research, promote science-based regulations, and encourage innovative technology, including biotechnology". ​Biofuels remains a contentious issue, as many have blamed them for driving up food prices by providing competition for grains. However, according to the White House council of economic advisors, they have only accounted for between 2 and 3 percent of price increases on all commodities. ​Schafer said this third prong would be helped by the successful completion of the Doha Agreement, which would reduce or eliminate tariffs and other trade barriers. The US is calling for trade restrictions to be lifted, considering these to drive up prices and isolating farmers from market signals that affect their ability to meet demand by taking the food off the global market. Friends of the Earth's recommendations ​FOE stresses that biofuels, genetic modification and international trade liberalisation will fail to alleviate current global food problems. Campaigner Kirtana Chandrasekaran said: "Biofuels, intensive GM farming and export-oriented food production are devastating small farmers and local food markets. "We urgently need a new model of agriculture that will phase outEurope's reliance on imported animal feeds and end the growing demand for biofuel crops." ​ It has called for:

  • An end to harmful bilateral trade deals, saying all governments must be allowed to implement their own policies that develop local food production and agricultural systems

  • The EU to scrap plans for a 10 percent target for biofuels in transport fuel and focus on doubling vehicle efficiency

  • A reduction on the dependence on imported animal feed by supporting local sustainable feed production and abolishing subsidies that promote factory farming

  • Retailers and food companies to be required by law to deal fairly with suppliers, ensuring fair returns for food produced with sustainable practices

In conclusion, it said "funds must be used to develop an agricultural system that supports traditional knowledge and small scale agriculture and not techno-fixes such GM". World food security conference ​ The meeting will comprise two segments running simultaneously throughout the three days: the High-Level Segment and the Committee of the Whole. The High-Level Segment will hear statements from the heads of governments and delegations, while the Committee of the Whole will focus on:

  • High food prices: causes, consequences and possible solutions

  • Climate change and food security

  • Transboundary pests and diseases

  • Bioenergy and food security

The preparatory expert meetings were held between January and April, and the work and findings will inform the forthcoming conference.

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