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U.N. Secretary-General warns of “double jeopardy” of high food and fuel prices

V. Jayanth

Calls for global partnership to save the poor; “Act immediately to boost agricultural output”

CHENNAI: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that the “double jeopardy” of high food and fuel prices threatened to undermine much of the progress made in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Critical challenges

He told a General Assembly meeting on global food security and energy crisis that there were three critical challenges facing humanity — realising the MDGs, addressing climate change, and responding to the global food and energy crisis. They required a global response and partnership to save the millions of vulnerable people around the world.

For this, he prescribed several steps , said a U.N. press communiqué.

“We must ensure that vulnerable populations are not left without urgent help in the midst of this emergency. We do this by scaling up food assistance and other nutrition interventions; increasing predictable financial support for food aid; reducing restrictions on donor contributions; and exempting purchases of humanitarian relief food from export restrictions and added export taxes. We may also need to establish a global reserve system for humanitarian food,” he said.

“We must act immediately to boost agricultural production this year. We do this by providing urgently needed seeds and fertilizers for the upcoming planting cycles, especially for the world’s small-scale farmers.

“It is high time to reverse the dramatic and deplorable downward trend in agriculture’s share in official development assistance (ODA). ODA has dropped from 18 per cent 20 years ago, to just around 3 per cent today. I have urged the G-8 leaders and international donors to raise this portion of ODA to agriculture from 3 per cent to at least 10 per cent.

“We must improve fair trade and the free flow of markets by reducing agricultural subsidies in G-8 countries. The rise in agricultural commodity prices in low-income, food-insecure countries offers an opportunity to reallocate savings to agricultural investment.

“We must significantly increase investment in agriculture and rural development so as to make it a viable sector of economy. We do this by boosting public spending on agriculture and rural infrastructure.

“We must strengthen global food commodity markets to meet the needs of all countries and people, particularly the poor, including by minimising export restrictions and levies on food commodities to help stabilise food prices. I call again for a rapid conclusion to the next World Trade Organisation Doha Development round.

“Member states must reassess subsidies and tariff protection for bio-fuel production. It is true that bio-fuels will need to remain a part of the equation in our fight against climate change.

“But, we also need to establish an international consensus and agreed policy guidelines on ways to balance the development of bio-fuels with food production priorities, ensuring complementarity.”

He said the financial implications related to this crisis would require substantial political and financial commitments, from national governments and donors first and foremost, but also from the private sector, civil society and the international system.

To achieve the Comprehensive Framework for Action’s goals, estimates suggested that between $25 billion and $40 billion annually may be needed. A Comprehensive Framework for Action has been developed by the High-Level Task Force and it represented the agreed upon and consolidated guidance of all its participating agencies and organisations, Mr. Ban said.

He noted the Framework was not a “one size fits all” blueprint for a response that will work in every situation, but rather a “menu of actions” that needed to be tailored to the specific context and needs of each country and its food security strategies.

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