Global Policy Forum

Disagreement Over Goals at UN Meeting on Hunger



November 17, 2009


A United Nations summit meeting on combating hunger that opened in Rome on Monday underscored the split between rich and poor countries on the issue, with the industrialized nations balking at concrete targets.

Sixty leaders attended the meeting, but apart from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy there were no leaders from the wealthiest nations. Some of those who attended, including Pope Benedict XVI, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, lashed out at what they called unfair agricultural policies by more developed nations.

In the hard-fought negotiations over a draft declaration from the three-day talks, richer nations succeeded in removing a goal to end world hunger by 2025 and declined to commit to increasing agricultural aid to nearly 20 percent of all international development aid, where it peaked in 1980 before gradually falling.

Instead, the draft declaration restated the United Nations target of halving world hunger by 2015 and said that eradicating hunger should come "at the earliest possible date." Diplomats from wealthier countries argued that creating a deadline for eradicating hunger was unrealistic, according to officials involved in the negotiations. The United Nations estimates that the number of people facing hunger around the world rose to more than one billion this year.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations had hoped the meeting would set an agriculture aid target of $44 billion annually toward helping farmers in poorer countries. To meet demand by 2050, agriculture output needs to grow by 70 percent, the organization said.

The draft declaration instead commits to "substantially increase" agriculture aid. Leaders of industrialized nations meeting in Italy last July agreed to spend more than $22 billion on agriculture aid over the next three years, but not all of that constitutes new aid, and the nations have been slow to figure out how it might be distributed.

The Rome conference was prompted by a sharp rise in the price of basic commodities like rice and wheat that incited food riots in many countries in 2008, a crisis that Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, warned could easily be repeated.

The pope decried the "greed which causes speculation to rear its head even in the marketing of cereals, as if food were to be treated just like any other commodity." Rising demand, weather and supply shocks, and not speculation alone, are considered to be at the root of the food crisis.

Mr. da Silva said that the developed world had to help rather than undermine the world's poor. "They sabotage emerging agriculture in the poorer countries, wiping out their hope to create a bridge to development," he said at the conference.

Colonel Qaddafi said that African states had to be wary of richer nations buying up vast tracts of land to ensure food security in their own countries without helping the people where the farming took place. He also called the monopolization of improved seed technology among a few companies "diabolical."

Some leaders said they worried that the gathering would merely reiterate old promises without leading to innovative change in fighting hunger. "We end up leaving with a stomach full of promises and think we have found a solution," Amadou Toumani Touré, Mali's president, was quoted as saying by Bloomberg. "Then, at the next conference, we start all over again."


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