UN Summit Advocates Green Revolution
A UN summit on the global food crisis asked rich nations on Wednesday to help "revolutionise" farming in Africa and the developing world to produce more food for nearly one billion people facing hunger.
"The global food crisis is a wake-up call for Africa to launch itself into a 'green revolution' which has been over-delayed," Nigerian Agriculture Minister Sayyadi Abba Ruma said on the second day of the three-day summit.
"Every second, a child dies of hunger," he told Reuters. "The time to act is now. Enough rhetoric and more action."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received a petition signed by more than 300,000 people saying there was no time to lose. A draft declaration from 151 countries taking part said: "We commit to eliminating hunger and to securing food for all."
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation called the summit after soaring commodity prices threatened to add 100 million more people to the 850 million already going hungry and caused food riots that threatened government stability in some countries.
The cost of major food commodities has doubled over the last couple of years, with rice, corn and wheat at record highs.
The OECD sees prices retreating from their peaks but still up to 50 per cent higher in the coming decade.
Ban said the summit was already a success. "There is a clear sense of resolve, shared responsibility and political commitment among member states to making the right policy choices and investing in agriculture in the years to come.
But discord over how much biofuels contribute to the rise in food prices by competing with foodstuff crops threatened to deprive the summit of a forceful final declaration.
"I doubt there will be a positive agreement on biofuels," said US Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, who spent the summit defending the biofuel industry, as did Brazil's President Luiz Ignazio Lula da Silva.
The United States, a leader in maize-based ethanol, and Brazil, the world's largest producer of ethanol from sugar cane, say it is important to diversify energy sources at a time when oil prices are sky-high and there is pressure for cleaner fuels.
Ban's predecessor at the head of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, was in Rome to sign an agreement with UN food agencies for a new drive to increase farm production in Africa.
"The world is facing an unprecedented world food crisis and nowhere is this crisis more serious and acute than in Africa," he told a news conference about the new plan.
"We hope to spur a green revolution in Africa which respects biodiversity and the continent's distinct regions," said Annan, who chairs the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) which is coordinating the effort.
The scheme will provide technical support to improve soil and water management, access to seeds and fertilisers, and improve infrastructure in "breadbasket" areas of Africa which have relatively good conditions for farming.
The Nigerian minister said his country had "the potential to become the food basket of Africa". But its farms were 90 per cent dependent on rainfall, making them vulnerable to climate change, and its 14 million smallholders used "rudimentary" techniques.
The Rome summit will set the tone on food aid and subsidies for the Group of Eight summit in Japan in July and what is hoped to be the concluding stages of the stalled Doha talks under the World Trade Organisation aimed at reducing trade distortions.
Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, who told the summit on Tuesday that former colonial power Britain was to blame for many of his country's problems, came under fire from a human rights group which said he was using food as a weapon ahead of the June 27 presidential run-off election.
Human Rights Watch said the Harare government was deliberately stopping food aid being provided to supporters of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
"President Mugabe's government has a long history of using food to control the election outcome," it said.