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Food aid to come at hefty price

Latest update : 2008-06-05

World leaders are to agree on a plan to combat the global food crisis, according to a draft summit. UN chief Ban-Ki Moon warned that up to 20 billion dollars a year would be necessary.

World leaders will seek Thursday to agree an action plan to tackle the global food crisis, after three days of wrangling which has exposed strains over how to prevent hunger and poverty.
  
In a draft summit declaration obtained by AFP, they vowed to use "all means" to help victims of soaring prices which have stretched family budgets in rich countries and sparked food riots in others.
  
But the draft includes compromise language notably on the vexed issue of biofuels, which are promoted notably in the United States but criticised by others as taking land which could otherwise be used for food production.
  
The wrangling over diplomatic language came after United Nations officials announced almost three billion dollars (two billion euros) of new aid to help ease the food crisis.
  
Those new pledges were welcomed, but UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned up to 20 billion dollars a year would be needed.
  
"We simply cannot afford to fail," he said at the food security summit hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome. "Hundreds of millions of people expect no less."
  
Food prices have doubled in three years, according to the World Bank, sparking riots in Egypt and Haiti and in many African nations. Brazil, Vietnam, India and Egypt have all imposed food export restrictions.
  
The first day of the summit Tuesday saw colourful remarks by the presidents of Iran and Zimbabwe about western pressure, while there has been plenty of criticism of rich countries' protection of their markets.
  
But by Wednesday British official at the summit John Holmes said a "broad consensus" was building around an action plan, which is scheduled to be presented at a Group of Eight meeting in Japan later this month.
  
World Bank President Robert Zoellick called for the lifting of trade barriers that contribute to food price inflation.
  
"We need an international call to remove export bans and restrictions," he said. "These controls encourage hoarding, drive up prices and hurt the poorest people around the world who are struggling to feed themselves," he said.
  
In the draft draft summit declaration the leaders vow to "use all means to alleviate the suffering caused by the current crisis, stimulate food production and increase investment in agriculture."
  
They also agreed that food security must be taken into account in a long hoped-for new world trade accord, according to the draft declaration.
  
"We will strive to ensure that food agricultural trade and overall trade policies are conducive to fostering food security for all," they said, referring to last-gasp efforts to agree a World Trade Organization (WTO) deal.
  
But biofuels have proven the most contentious issue, according to delegates.
  
In what critics would likely see as ducking the issue, the draft summit declaration says biofuels present both "challenges and opportunities" -- and say that more research is needed.
  
"We are convinced that in-depth studies are needed to ensure the production and use of biofuels is sustainable ... taking into account the need to achieve and maintain food security," adds the draft, which was still being worked on.
  
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan put his signature Wednesday to a new initiative partnering the three UN food agencies with his Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
  
"By unifying our efforts we can drastically step up our support for Africa's smallholder farmers," said Annan, stressing that the alliance would "focus on the small-scale farmer, not to run them out of business."

Date created : 2008-06-05

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