Food summit may end 'without declaration of intent'

The United States, which is diverting increasing amounts of its maize harvest into automobile fuel, came under attack from some countries and poverty campaigners who have called for a rethink of policies to promote fuel made from foodstuffs.

Food summit may end 'without declaration of intent'
A summit on the global food crisis was at risk of closing without a declaration of intent on Thursday because of squabbling over side issues.

Delegates from 183 countries at the Rome talks missed their Wednesday deadline for agreeing a final statement about "eliminating hunger and securing food for all".

"The food crisis which the world faces today is so serious that it would be disastrous for the survival of mankind if the conclusions reached suffer the same fate at this historic summit," said Ghana's President John Kufuor.

The problem was not the heated debate on biofuels, which are accused of diverting food to gas tanks, but disagreement between opponents and supporters of communist Cuba about mention of U.S. sanctions, and other marginal or region-specific issues.

"They will look at a new draft which they can either approve, try to amend or, in the worst case, reject," said a U.N. official as the last day of the meeting began.

The summit was called by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation to seek ways to secure food supplies in the face of rising demand -- especially from rapidly developing Asian countries -- poor harvests and rising fuel costs.

Those factors have contributed to a doubling of commodity prices over the last couple of years which the World Bank says has put 100 million people at risk of joining the 850 million already going hungry.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development sees prices of rice, corn and wheat retreating from peaks but still up to 50 percent higher in the next decade. The FAO says food production must rise 50 percent by 2050 to meet demand.

"They say it is not time anymore to talk, that it's time to act. I am waiting for them to act," said Momar Ndao, a Senegalese campaigner who took part in price riots in March.

Brutal price rise

Some questioned the worth of the summit which began with speeches from 44 leaders. President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, a sceptic of international attempts to solve hunger and a critic of the FAO, said it was a waste of time.

"There's been a brutal rise in prices (of food) and we were told there was a threat hanging over the world and all the heads of state were called to attend," Wade told Reuters.

"I thought it was going to be to answer the question about what should be done, but it wasn't that at all. It was just a conference like any other and that's why I was disappointed."

Others believed the summit had fulfilled its role already by focusing world attention on the hungry and on poor farmers.

"This is at the top of the global agenda and it's none too soon," said Josette Sheeran, head of the World Food Programme which delivers emergency supplies. "Hunger is on the march."

"Talking is important. Of course talking is very different to action, but it's a start," said Matthew Wyatt, deputy head of U.N.'s International Fund for Agricultural Development.

"For the last 30 years agriculture and food security have barely featured on the international agenda."

British-based poverty campaigners Oxfam said it was "very easy to dismiss this food summit as a talking shop". Oxfam GB head Barbara Stocking said the meeting "could be a stepping stone to better policies and the money to implement them."

Although the summit was not meant to produce promises of aid or set new global policies, it has put hunger on the agenda of July's Group of Eight summit in Japan. By then U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to have issued an action plan.

The Rome debate on the potential benefits to poor farmers of new global trade rules will also feed into a push to conclude the so-called Doha round of World Trade Organisation talks, which reach a potentially conclusive phase in coming weeks.

The United States, which is diverting increasing amounts of its maize harvest into automobile fuel, came under attack from some countries and poverty campaigners who have called for a rethink of policies to promote fuel made from foodstuffs.

Washington acknowledges the spread of biofuels has added to the demand for crops, especially maize, and contributed to food inflation but says it is only by a marginal amount.

Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 05 Haziran 2008, 17:40
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