The humanitarian community is to urge the G8 leaders to fully fund immediate emergency aid and to invest in longer-term agricultural development in poorer nations to tackle the global food crisis.
Since the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK and US met at the last G8 summit a year ago, food prices have soared 53 percent in the first three months of 2008 alone compared with the same period in 2007, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“The G8 nations shoulder much of the responsibility for current global conditions and should commit to the achievable goal of ending hunger as a fundamental step towards alleviating human suffering, increasing international security and fostering economic [growth],” Devrig Velly, senior food security adviser for the NGO Action Against Hunger (AAH), told IRIN.
Asked for a wish list to hand the leaders at the summit in Japan from 7-9 July, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) research fellow Marc Cohen told IRIN: “Expanding assistance to agriculture in developing countries and, second, making sure that we do indeed have adequate resources for humanitarian assistance for the rest of the year.”
The facts are stark: soaring prices propelled by both cyclical patterns such as droughts and floods, potentially exacerbated by global warming, and more fundamental shifts such as the diversion of crops to fuel production and the rapidly expanding food demands of the growing economies of India and China, threaten to push up to 130 million more people into hunger, in addition to the 850 million already suffering.
Earlier this year the UN World Food Programme (WFP) had to issue an “extraordinary emergency appeal” for an additional US$755 million over the $2.9 billion it had sought - just to feed the same 73 million people in 78 countries. Food riots and protests have already erupted in more than 30 countries and UN officials have warned of potential widespread unrest and political instability sparked by the food crisis.
The UN summit called for a twin-track approach aimed at immediately alleviating the impact of high food and fuel prices on the weakest population groups through direct transfers and safety nets; and promoting agricultural and rural development both in the short and long run, especially in poorer countries.
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf is calling for $30 billion a year to boost productivity in low-income, food-deficit countries. IFPRI puts the annual bill at somewhat less – some $20 billion.
It is here that the humanitarian community, both UN agencies and NGOs, wants the G8 to step up to the plate.
|One report cited by the FAO ascribes 65 percent of the food price rise to the diversion of such commodities as sugar, maize, cassava, oilseeds and palm oil to biofuel production|
“I suspect that the G8 by themselves will not come up with that level but there might be some additional pledges of resources,” IFPRI’s Cohen said, noting that the donor community had cut support for agriculture in developing countries “pretty dramatically”, to about half of what it was in real terms 25 years ago. World Bank President Robert Zoellick has already announced a doubling of the Bank’s agricultural assistance in Africa to $800 million.
Cohen also called on the leaders to provide resources to help developing countries to improve or create safety nets so “they can expand as need expands”.
Oxfam America policy director Gawain Kripke noted that aid to the agricultural sector had declined from some 18 percent to about 4 percent of official development aid (ODA) over the past 25 years.
“One of the reasons that we’re facing food insecurity now and the food price crisis is because agricultural productivity has declined so dramatically,” he told IRIN, voicing the hope that the G8 leaders would pledge more aid specifically for agriculture and small farmers in developing countries.
He called on the summit to look at rich countries’ policies that contribute to the crisis, including biofuels and trade. One report cited by the FAO ascribes 65 percent of the food price rise to the diversion of such commodities as sugar, maize, cassava, oilseeds and palm oil to biofuel production.
|Oil palms can yield oil in three years that can be chemically processed to produce fuels such as biodiesel|
Siwa Msangi, research fellow in IFPRI’s environment and production technology division, who has advocated for genetically modified (GM) crops for food and fuel production, a move opposed by some environmentalists, hopes the summit will look at GM policies.
“I hope they will adopt a more science-based approach to decide whether or not countries should adopt [GM products], rather than basing it on scientific biases,” he told IRIN. “Hopefully a more evidence-based approach could be used as a standard for admitting or not admitting GM production.”
Another issue is rich countries’ domestic agricultural subsidies that many experts see as de-stimulating agricultural production in the developing world. “The subsidies systems in western countries must encourage greater economic investment in sustainable forms of agriculture in the least developed countries,” Velly of AAH said.
He also called on the G8 to eliminate trade barriers “that serve to protect western markets while stultifying exports from the least developed countries”.