International food summit doesn’t live up to expectations

The WORLD Food Security Summit in Rome seems to have been only a weak first step towards UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s prediction that the world will have to produce 50% more food by 2030 to meet rising demand.
Issue date : 20 June 2008

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The WORLD Food Security Summit in Rome seems to have been only a weak first step towards UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s prediction that the world will have to produce 50% more food by 2030 to meet rising demand.

Pennsylvania’s Patriot-News summed it up best when, after the conference, it reported that modern agriculture has both freed and forced people from the land. Its productivity has permitted civilisations to focus on other things, ironically creating generations with little understanding of the origins of the food they eat.

The publication suggested these developments should make people aware of the need to protect farmland and farmers, especially those who practise sustainable agriculture. But the most important step Americans needed to take was to stop taking food for granted.

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Noting that poor countries have reduced agricultural production in past decades due to low prices for farm products, Beijing’s Xinhuanet reported that officials of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) had said developing countries could learn from China about ensuring food security.

At a time when many developing countries were reducing agricultural investment, was attaching great importance to farm production and increasing investment, they said. he Malaysia Star said that because there were so many conflicting views at the conference, only a weak declaration was adopted.

There was no mention of unfair trade like high subsidies in rich countries, financial speculation driving prices up, or the importance of changing agricultural systems in view of the climate change problem. The most controversial issue throughout was biofuel and its role in restricting the growth of food supplies and the rise in prices.

Accordingly, several countries warned against the expansion of the wrong biofuel, while Brazil defended its ethanol and the US declared that biofuel contributed only 3% to food-price inflation. The president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, called for an international code of conduct to slow down biofuel production and to assess its environmental and social dimensions.

Other media reports said that although many had hoped for more support for biotechnology and a greater understanding of biofuel’s role in rising food prices, the final declaration did not take on either of these issues. However, Americans felt that unless the rest of the world started learning how to increase yields, people were going to go hungry.

According to Kevin Kelley in The East African, the summit may have failed to follow the adage: “Give a hungry man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” He added that while the food crisis might have been avoided had rich countries done more to promote agricultural development in impoverished regions, a recent study found that African governments have also failed to provide adequate assistance.

Food output per person in Africa during the past 30 years had declined, with archaic farming methods leaving the continent far behind the rest of the world in food produced per hectare of cultivated land. Also in The East African, David Malinghadoya reported that during the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) biannual meeting, which took place at the same time as the World Food Security Summit, participants proposed a fresh start, pointing out that development models copied from elsewhere had not worked.

According to the article President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal had accused the FAO of imposing institutions and experts on Africa, while Shanta Devarajan, World Bank chief economist, said, “Policy makers and researchers need to design appropriate  newsinterventions, taking into consideration the unique environment of each country.” he article said that the technology-driven Green Revolution in Asia could be attributed to large, collectively owned areas of irrigated land, well-defined markets, basic institutions for financial services and a supportive state intervention in prices.

But some participants felt it was time policy makers stopped assuming Asia’s Green Revolution could be replicated in Africa, where agriculture is mainly rain-fed, there’s exhausted soil, poor infrastructure, diverse social systems, low levels of education, weak governance and many small countries with different institutions. – Roelof Bezuidenhout

Australia ups slaughter lamb production Australian slaughter lamb producers are well placed to expand

Production in response to strong export demand and high prices, according to a new Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) report. Acting ABARE executive director Karen Schneider said that in 2006/07, production of slaughter lambs was adversely affected by drought and the reduced availability of irrigation water.

“Improved seasonal conditions in 2007/08 are projected to result in many producers realising a significant improvement in farm cash income, as receipts rebound and costs fall,” Schneider concluded. – Alan Harman Potato peels for electricity American food producer HJ Heinz Company plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% over the next eight years, by using potato peels to generate enough energy to power 8 000 homes.

“From using potato peels to generate energy, to reducing the amount and size of our packaging, every day we’re finding new ways to reduce our environmental footprint and improve the efficiency of our company,” chief executive Bill Johnson said. Heinz is in project development stages to convert left-over potato peels from its Ore-Ida brand into biofuel, which will then be distributed to a central natural gas pipeline for sale and distribution. – Alan Harman