The UN will set up a top-level task force to tackle the global food crisis that threatens to touch off a “cascade” of crises affecting trade, the global economy and even political security around the world, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.
“The rapidly escalating price of food is severely impacting the poor in developing countries,” Ban said on Tuesday after a meeting with UN agency chiefs and other top officials in the Swiss capital Bern.
Ban, who will lead the task force, said the group agreed on a series of measures for the medium and long term, with the first priority being to meet the US$755 million shortfall in funding for the World Food Program.
“The first and immediate priority that we all agree is that we must feed the hungry,” he said. “Without full funding of these emergency requirements we risk again the specter of widespread hunger, malnutrition and social unrest on an unprecedented scale.”
Even if the shortfall is met, more money will probably be needed, he said.
Ban said later in a speech at the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva that the high food prices “could touch off a cascade of related crises — affecting trade, economic growth, social progress and even political security around the world.”
The price increases have been dramatic, he said.
“The price of rice in particular has gone from US$400 a tonne some weeks ago to more than US$1,000 today,” Ban said.
He blamed the escalating prices on a range of causes — high oil prices, growing demand, bad trade policies, bad weather, panic buying and speculation and “the new craze of biofuels derived from food products.”
“In addition to increasing food prices, we see at the same time farmers in developing countries planting less, producing less, due to the escalating cost of fertilizer and energy,” Ban said.
“We must make every effort to support those farmers so that in the coming year we do not see even more severe food shortages,” he said.
Ban said ensuring longer-term food supplies needs to go even further, with the focus on Africa.
African countries could double their food production over a very few years for “a relatively modest” US$8 billion to US$10 billion annually, he said.
Like Southeast Asia in the last century, Africa could use the investment to implement new agricultural techniques that will create a “green revolution” of increased crop yields, Ban said.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has developed a US$1.7 billion plan to provide seeds for farmers in the world’s poorest countries, he said.
“We must make every effort to support those farmers,” Ban said.
He said he hoped world leaders would come to a meeting in Rome next month to find ways to alleviate the food crisis. He said the international community had previously not listened to warnings from the FAO and others.
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