Food summit document calls for 'urgent' action

by Eric Schroeder
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ROME — A summit convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concluded Thursday with participating countries vowing to halve global hunger by 2015 and take "urgent" action to help developing countries and countries in transition to expand agriculture and food production.

The summit, held June 3-5 in Rome, was called in response to soaring food prices that have left many of the world’s poorer countries in dire need of help. The summit drew representatives from 181 countries, with 43 countries represented by their head of state or government and 100 by high-level ministers. Overall, 5,159 people attended.

In a final declaration adopted at the end of the extended final day, participating countries agreed to follow through on a number of efforts.

"There is an urgent need to help developing countries and countries in transition expand agriculture and food production, and to increase investment in agriculture, agribusiness and rural development, from both public and private sources," according to the declaration.

The final document called on governments to "assure" U.N. agencies "the resources to expand and enhance their food assistance and support safety net programs to address hunger and malnutrition, when appropriate, through the use of local or regional purchases."

In addition, the declaration urged the creation of "development partners" to participate in and contribute "to international and regional initiatives on soaring food prices" and "assist countries to put in place the revised policies and measures to help farmers, particularly small-scale producers, to increase production and integrate with local, regional and international markets."

The document also recommended initiatives be developed that "moderate unusual fluctuations" in food grain prices.

"We call on relevant institutions to assist countries in developing their food stock capacities and consider other measures to strengthen food security risk management for affected countries," the document said.

In regards to climate change, the document said countries must address the issue of increasing the resilience of food against changes in change.

"We urge governments to assign appropriate priority to the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors, in order to create opportunities to enable the world’s smallholder farmers and fishers, including indigenous people, in particular vulnerable areas, to participate in, and benefit from financial mechanisms and investment flows to support climate change adaptation, mitigation and technology development, transfer and dissemination," the document said. "We support the establishment of agricultural systems and sustainable management practices that positively contribute to the mitigation of climate change and ecological balance."

Biofuels and their relationship to food security proved a contentious issue for participants at the summit. Ultimately, the countries involved determined that in-depth studies are necessary to ensure that production and use of biofuels is sustainable in accordance with the three pillars of sustainable development. They also vowed to take into account the need to achieve and maintain global food security.

"We call upon relevant inter-governmental organizations, including F.A.O., within their mandates and areas of expertise, with the involvement of national governments, partnerships, the private sector, and civil society, to foster a coherent, effective and results-oriented international dialogue on biofuels in the context of food security and sustainable development needs," the document said.

Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer welcomed news of the declaration.

"We congratulate the countries who took an active role in securing this declaration, which, among other things, calls on countries to meet urgent humanitarian needs and donors and international organizations to support expanded food production, encourages the international community to continue its efforts toward trade liberalization, and recognizes the important role of investments in science and technology in ensuring food security in the long term," Mr. Schafer said. "We also welcome the declaration’s recognition of the important issues related to the challenges and opportunities of biofuels. The United States is firmly committed to the sustainable production and use of biofuels, both domestically and globally.

"The United States reaffirms our commitment to combat global hunger. The United States is on track to spend nearly $5 billion on programs to combat hunger over the next two years, and we will continue to work with the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to those most vulnerable to hunger. We will also target development assistance to increase staple food production and availability. In the longer term, we will continue to work to create a global policy environment that allows the free flow of food and the best technologies to produce food."

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