Dozens of farmers' groups kicked off a forum in Rome on Sunday to coincide with the UN food agency's summit on food security with an impassioned plea for an overhaul of world agricultural policies.
“We have empty plates and we have empty policies,” said Paul Nicholson of La Via Campesina, an international small farmers’ movement.
“Let us protect and defend a farming system that feeds the world and cools the planet,” he told a news conference held across the street from the Rome headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The FAO is holding a summit from today to Thursday at which world leaders will discuss food security following runaway prices sparking riots across the world.
“Free-trade policies have seriously damaged the food system over time, leading to the food crisis that we’re facing today,” said Maryam Rahmanian of Iran’s Center for Sustainable Development.
She complained of increasing marginalization of the peasant movement, whose participation in the FAO summit will be limited to a presentation of the forum’s conclusions to the gathering on Thursday.
On Sunday, however, FAO and the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) were represented at the parallel forum’s first plenary session, and Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, was also on hand.
De Schutter last month joined the growing chorus accusing biofuels — until recently cast as a miracle alternative to polluting fossil fuels — of usurping arable land and distorting world food prices.
IFAD’s Gunilla Olsen received warm applause for her comments.
“The food crisis is a reflection of a long and growing social crisis and policy crisis,” she said. “There can be no more fundamental interest than not being hungry.”
Rahmanian, who is on the forum’s steering committee, said earlier: “It’s obscene that the food crisis is being used to push stronger on policies” promoting large-scale agriculture, biofuels and the use of genetically modified organisms and pesticides.
Meeting journalists on Sunday, the administrator of the US aid agency USAID, Henrietta Ford, spoke of a “second green revolution” for developing countries that would emphasize public-private partnerships.
“Collaboration between private sectors, donors, non-profit organizations, foundations such as the Gates Foundation … will provide a win-win scenario for business [and] farmers,” she said.
Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said on Monday that presence of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe at the summit was “obscene.”
Mugabe, who has presided over the collapse of his country’s agriculture, arrived in Rome on Sunday.
The 84-year-old president is usually subject to a travel ban to the EU because of sanctions imposed after he allegedly rigged his re-election in 2002, but is able to attend UN forums.
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