Food summit 'important first step'

Posted: 6 June 2008

This week's UN food summit in Rome was an important first step in tackling the food crisis but greater action is now needed to resolve the crisis, says Oxfam.

"Recognising you have a problem is the first step toward solving it. Leaders of the richest countries have acknowledged the importance of aid to agriculture after 25 years of decline. They have pledged money to provide immediate aid to those that need it. But a crisis like this, with so many contributing factors, needs a wide-ranging plan to resolve it and rich countries can't continue to ignore their own trade and agriculture policies," said Barbara Stocking, CEO, Oxfam GB.

Fertilizing maize, Burkina Faso. Credit: FAO/D. Debert
Fertilizing maize, Burkina Faso. Credit: FAO/D. Debert
Fertilizing maize, Burkina Faso.© FAO/D. Debert
And Overseas Development Institute Director Simon Maxwell said: "The Food Summit in Rome turned out better than expected. It was not derailed by Robert Mugabe. It survived the unedifying wrangling over a final communiqué. It gave the topic a good hearing. It confirmed some practical actions. And it passed the torch successfully to the G8 in Japan in July."

The final communiqué acknowledges that biofuels offer both 'opportunities and challenges' and recommends more research into their impact. However, in the meantime, biofuels will continue to have a devastating impact on millions of poor people and recent estimates suggest that demand for biofuels is responsible for 30 per cent of the global food price rise. Oxfam is calling on the EU and US to end their compulsory biofuel targets.

The UN Task Force set up to deal with the food crisis must listen to representatives from the developing world's 400 million smallholder farmers. These farms are not only important in feeding their nations but also providing economic development and must be part of any solution to the crisis.

US$6 billion has been pledged this week but this is less than half of the $14.5bn that Oxfam estimates is needed to provide immediate assistance to at least 290 million people threatened by rising food prices until the end of 2008. It is unclear whether the US$6bn is new money or comes from existing aid commitments, and what is the time frame for its delivery.

On trade, and representing a win for Britain and the US, the summit backed the rapid conclusion of the Doha round of trade liberalisation, despite French reservations.

European officials said the summit should not be judged on the rows over the final declaration; there was growing consensus over the need to reverse decades of under-investment in agriculture.