UN chief Ban Ki-moon opened the international summit on the global food crisis in Rome last week by calling for a 50 per cent increase in food production by the year 2030. As the High-level Conference on World Food Security concluded the UN’s long-term focus was revealed; to improve food security whilst increasing production and agricultural financing. For Ban, the world has a “historic opportunity to revitalise agriculture” and must “respond immediately” to improve food security and eliminate “trade and taxation policies that distort markets.”
With this declaration the momentum for change is growing, but is this direction going to see the development of sustainable agricultural practices? Will it relieve hunger and improve the quality of lives for the global poor? Or will the rich poor divide worsen through further entrenchment of existing mechanisms that control trade and production in favor of Western politics and economics?
The global food price crisis has been brought about by an increased demand for biofuels, poor harvests from changing environments, increasing transportation costs, land development, a growing Asian market as well as unfavorable trade characteristics. The poorest people around the world have been hit hardest, sparking food riots in some places, for example Haiti, Cameroon and Egypt, as well as food export restrictions in many others such as India, Vietnam and Brazil.
At the summit world leaders agreed that changes to farming practices are needed to address the price rise and food shortage crisis. The UN announced on Friday that $6 billion in new funding would be provided to address the global food crisis through implementation of the “Comprehensive Framework for Action” agreed to by the international task force (including the World Bank, WTO and IMF). Features of the plan include feeding programmes, fertilizer supplies, animal services and other short term measures as well as longer term strategies to reduce export bans on food commodities and increase investment in agricultural production. The Under-Secretary General, John Holmes stated,
“We need to focus both on the immediate needs and on the longer-term issues starting right now and the focus is on the smallholder farmers in developing countries,” he said. “These are the people who need most help and where there is the most potential for increasing agricultural productivity and production.”
Whilst the object to increase food production is clear and the direction to help small farmers important many questions of implementation arise. For example, is it possible to double world food production in a sustainable manner, are GM foods being reconsidered, what implication does this have regarding land use and environmental protection? Furthermore, questions of accountability about policies and trade practices that have created the hunger crisis remain unaddressed.
It appears that a range of factors have coalesced to reach a global crisis, increasing consumption, overdevelopment, resource depletion, oil crisis, biofuel demands, climate change and so on. These problems and the challenges they bring to security will not be solved under a ‚Äòbusiness as usual approach’ where trade regimes are not addressed, third-world debt and conditionalities continue to mount and where trade subsidies serve to benefit wealthy nations at the expense of poor communities. It is hoped that this latest mobilisation for change will consider, in real and practical terms, issues of sustainability in agriculture and will extend to address global trading regimes that have produced an unequal distribution of benefits; the root of the food security crisis.