Ban Ki-moon urges 'bold and urgent' steps to tackle global food crisis

Posted: 5 June 2008

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on world leaders gathered at a United Nations summit in Rome to take "bold and urgent" steps to tackle the global food crisis, including boosting food production and revitalizing agriculture to ensure long-term food security.

Addressing the High-level Conference on World Food Security, Mr Ban said that over 850 million people around the globe were short of food before the current crisis began. That number is estimated to rise by a further 100 million, and the poorest of the poor will be the hardest hit.

weakened animals
weakened animals
People bringing their weakened animals to an Oxfam destocking programme. Photo: Jane Beesley, Oxfam.
"The threats are obvious to us all. Yet this crisis also presents us with an opportunity," Mr. Ban told the gathering, hosted by the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). "It is a chance to revisit past policies. While we must respond immediately to high food prices, it is important that our longer term focus is on improving world food security - and remains so for some years."

Emphasizing that the world needs to produce more food, the Secretary-General noted that production needs to rise by 50 per cent by the year 2030 to meet the rising demand. "We have an historic opportunity to revitalize agriculture - especially in countries where productivity gains have been low in recent years."

The High-Level Task Force Mr Ban set up last month to address the situation arising from the surge in food prices has recommended a number of steps, including improving vulnerable people's access to food and increasing food availability in their communities.

This includes expanding food assistance, boosting small-scale food production through the provision of key inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, and adjusting policies to allow the free flow of agricultural goods.

Mr Ban noted that some countries have taken action by limiting exports or by imposing price controls, but called on nations to resist such measures as they only distort markets and force prices even higher. "As I have said before, I say again now: Beggar Thy Neighbour food policies cannot work," he stated.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf appealed to global leaders for $30 billion a year to re-launch agriculture and avert future threats of conflict over food.

Jacques Diouf, FAO
Jacques Diouf, FAO
Jacques Diouf, FAO Director-General
Dr Diouf noted that in 2006 the world spent US$1,200 billion on arms while food wasted in a single country could cost US$100 billion.

And he asked "against that backdrop, how can we explain to people of good sense and good faith that it is not possible to find US$30 billion a year to enable 862 million hungry people to enjoy the most fundamental of human rights: the right to food and thus the right to life?"

Dr. Diouf noted that the current crisis had already had "tragic political and social consequences" in different countries and could further endanger world peace and security.

"If we do not urgently take the courageous decisions that are required in the present circumstances, the restrictive measures taken by producing countries to meet the needs of their populations, the impact of climate change and speculation on futures markets will place the world in a dangerous situation," he warned.