UN to set up food crisis task force

Ban Ki-moon says group will address funding shortfalls in World Food Programme.

     Ban (right) will lead a task force which will have UN agencies like FAO and WFP taking a lead role [AFP]

    "We must ensure food for tomorrow," he said.

    Global response


    Ban said there were a number of causes of the food crisis including climate change, long spells of drought, changing consumption patterns in major developing countries and the planting of crops for biofuel.

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    He said new measures had to go further than just providing emergency food relief when crises hit unlike the previous global response.

    Fred Mousseau of the Oxfam aid agency told Al Jazeera that the setting up of the task force showed that the world was taking the problem seriously.

    "All the main UN agencies, and the World Bank and IMF [International Monetary Fund] are getting together and recognising that we have a big problem to deal with and we need to do something about it," he said.

    "That's a good start, to get together, have a concerted, coherent action plan put in place to address the current problems."

    Seed plan


    Ban said that the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation has developed a $1.7 billion plan to provide seeds for farmers in the world's poorest countries.



    Philippines battles rice crisis

    "We must make every effort to support those farmers," Ban said.


    He also hoped world leaders would come to a June meeting in Rome to find ways to tackle the food crisis.


    He said the international community had previously not listened to warnings from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and others.


     "This time the whole United Nations is now leading this campaign to address this issue," he said.

    Export restrictions

    Ban urged countries such as Brazil and Egypt to drop export restrictions on certain foods and commodities, saying they have actually reduced supplies and contributed to price hikes.

    Global food crisis

    Food riots have erupted in Haiti, Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Madagascar, the Philippines and Haiti in the past month


    In Pakistan and Thailand, army troops have been deployed to avoid food being seized from fields and warehouses


    Prices in these countries for foodstuffs such as rice, wheat, sorghum and maize have doubled


    Causes of crisis range from financial speculation on food commodities, desertification, population increases, China and India's economic growth and use of grains to make biofuels


    Cost of funding projects enabling governments to tackle food crisis could be up to $1.7bn


    However world cereal production in 2008 is projected to increase by 2.6 per cent to a record 2,164 million tonnes


    Source: United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)

    Argentina, Brazil, Vietnam, India and Egypt have all imposed limitations on the export of certain produce in order to ensure food security for their populations.  

    "Domestic policy measures that correct distortions and do not jeopardise the supply response need to be put in place, together with budget support measures and balance of payments support for the  most affected countries," Ban said.

    His calls were echoed by Pascal Lamy, World Trade Organisation director general, and Robert Zoellick, head of the World Bank.

    "We urge countries not to use export bans. These controls encourage hoarding, drive up prices and hurt the poorest people around the world," Zoellick said.

    The call came after the Philippines, the world's largest importer of rice, urged the World Bank to use "moral persuasion"  to urge nations to lift the bans.

    "Everyone seems to be afraid to release it [rice] into the international market. It's going against pricing," Arthur Yap, agriculture secretary, said.

    The Philippine government has announced plans to introduce "rice access cards" for the country's poor to buy subsidised grain in a bid to stave off an escalating food crisis.

    Poverty increasing 


    Zoellick said 100 million people are estimated to have been pushed into poverty over the past two years.


    "This is not a natural disaster," Zoellick said.


    He said $475 million has already been pledged to WFP but more is needed.


    "This crisis isn't over once the emergency needs are met," Zoellick said.


    "The world can afford this ... I think we've now got the attention of the world community.


    "We can't just replay this year after year after year."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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