Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The failure of the World Food Summit

The three day World Food Summit has now concluded in Rome. According to all anti-hunger advocates it was a failure.

A couple of reasons are given for why the summit failed to come up with funding goals or a deadline for ending hunger. Some point to the lack of any ability of the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization to bully developed nations into action. Others say it's a lack of interest by any elected officials of the developed world over people starving to death.

From the IPS, writer Paul Virgo gives us the analysis.

At best it reflects the limits of the U.N. and its flagship body in the fight against hunger, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), activists say.

At worst, they say it shows wealthy countries’ leaders lack the political will to really to put their backs into solving a problem that - no matter how unjust and scandalous, in a world with more than enough to feed everyone - generally does not directly affect the voters who put them into office.

Either way it is probably bad news for the 1.02 billion people, almost one sixth of the global population, who go to bed every night with empty stomachs.

FAO Director General Jacques Diouf tried to make the best of it Monday after the approval of a toothless declaration.

He pointed out consensus had been achieved on the need to end the long- running decline in agricultural investment, which is one of the major reasons many people in rural areas of developing countries struggle to feed themselves.

But, Diouf admitted "regret" that countries had failed to commit themselves to wiping out hunger by 2025 and that developed nations had not agreed to allocate 44 billion dollars in aid to agriculture per year.

That figure sounds like an awful lot of money, but it was not such an ambitious target if one considers other ways money is spent.

The summit was skipped by all but one of the leaders of countries in the Group of Eight leading world economic powers - Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who only had to take a short drive from his office to reach the FAO’s headquarters.

The G8 pledged to devote 20 million dollars to agricultural aid over the next three years at the L’Aquila summit in July. So some believe the no-shows here imply they want to implement their food security policies via G8 organs or other bodies, such as the World Bank, which has frequently been accused of infringing national sovereignty by trying to promote models of development imported from the West that are not appropriate in poorer countries.

"The absence of the G8 leaders is a clear message that the rich countries are still trying to impose their policies on poor countries," said Sergio Marelli, head of the association of Italian non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

"Agro-food policies and management of resources for their implementation can only be the competence of the specialised United Nations agencies, above all the FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and should not be handed to the World Bank," Marelli said. "We believe assigning the World Bank the role of policy-maker would mean giving it back to the institution that has the greatest responsibility for the current food crisis."

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