FRANCE - FOOD CRISIS

Sarkozy pledges to double food aid

3 min

President Nicolas Sarkozy promised to double France's contribution to emergency food aid in 2008 on Friday, with experts heaping increasing criticism on biofuels as a contributor to the world's food crisis. (Report: J. André, C. Westerheide)

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France will double its emergency food aid this year, spending 60 million euros (100 million dollars), President Nicolas Sarkozy said Friday, as he warned the world's food crisis was breeding unrest.

"We must act urgently to strengthen food security at a time when 37 countries are going through a very serious food crisis," Sarkozy told a major meeting on climate change in Paris.

"We cannot remain indifferent to the unrest among those people who, in the developing countries, can no longer satisfy their hunger."

Soaring prices for basic grains -- rice, wheat, soybean and corn -- have provoked protests and rioting in at least half a dozen developing countries in past months, and has toppled the government of one.

Last weekend, Haiti's premier Jacques-Edouard Alexis was ousted in a no-confidence vote after more than a week of violent demonstrations over rocketing food and fuel prices that left at least five people dead.

Protests have also erupted in Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Madagascar and Mauritania. Last weekend, 10,000 garment workers rioted in Bangladesh near the capital Dhaka, smashing cars and buses and vandalising factories.

Sarkozy addressed his comments to ministerial-level representatives from the world's largest developed economies and major developing countries, including China and India.

Taken together, the 16 participants of the Major Emitters' Meeting (MEM) are responsible for 80 percent of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming.

Climate change could be aggravating world food shortages, as rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns amplify water scarcity, especially in Australia, which is one of the world's breadbaskets, scientists say.

A measure championed to help reduce carbon emissions -- biofuels -- has also come under attack as a contributor to the food crisis.

IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn told French radio Friday that biofuels "pose a real moral problem" and that a moratorium on biofuels made from food commodities should be considered.

"The planet's problem, which is very important but which will not be solved with biofuels since hydrogen engines will be much more efficient in the years to come, must be balanced with the fact that people are going to die of hunger," he said.

The United States and Brazil have massive programmes for converting grains, sugar and soy beans into ethanol and biodiesel that are then used as a substitute for fossil fuels extracted from the ground.

UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food Jean Ziegler on Monday told German radio that "producing biofuels today is a crime against humanity."

Other factors blamed for contributing to food shortfalls, include a growing appetite for meat among China and India's growing middle class.

Record oil prices -- New York's main oil futures contract held steady near 115 dollars a barrel Thursday -- have exacerbated the crisis, cutting into cash consumers have not already spent on food and hitting the poor particularly hard.

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