While much of the world's attention is being paid to the financial
crisis, a UN agency is warning not to forget the ongoing food crisis. The Food
and Agriculture Organization says the financial turmoil could deepen the food
crisis. So it's calling on world leaders to stick to the commitments they made
at the food crisis summit in Rome in June. The warning comes amid this week's
meeting of the agency's Committee on World Food Security.
David Hallam, head of the FAO's trade policy
service, spoke from Rome to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua
about why the agency fears financial troubles could affect food security.
"There are a number of potentially adverse
effects that the financial crisis could have if it leads to the kind of global
downturn in economic growth, which the IMF (International Monetary Fund), for
example, has been predicting… in its world economic outlook," he says.
He adds, "On world markets, the demand for some
agricultural commodities is very much related to the levels of economic
activity and income. So, agricultural raw materials and also some of those
products, which are more dependent on income levels for demand, things like
some of the livestock products and so on – we'd expect perhaps to see a
downturn in the demand for those and therefore a weakening in their prices."
He says that consumers could benefit from lower
agricultural commodity prices if they actually filter down to that level. But he
warns, "It may compromise some of the efforts that we've been making to try and
encourage investment in agriculture, especially in developing countries."
Asked whether it would be natural for countries,
like the United States, to reduce overseas spending in times like these, he
says, "Yes. I mean it's something that I think…we've seen through history. When
there is a downturn like this there tends to be a tendency to look inwards and
cut those kind of external areas of spending. We're concerned about this
because in the last year, of course, with the food crisis that we had, many
developed countries have pledged greater support to agriculture in developing
countries and we don't want to see that evaporate."
The FAO wants leaders to stand by their commitments
to agriculture. "If we're going to try and restore stability in world food
supplies and so on, then we really need that kind of productivity enhancing
investment," he says.
However, he admits it's unclear just how the
financial problems will play out. "There are different views at the moment on
the extent to which developed countries will go into recession. How long such
recessions might continue. So obviously the deeper and more prolonged the
greater the risk is that funds for overseas development will be restricted," he
Hallam says the "fundamental, underlying"
causes of the food crisis were a long-term decline in investment in agriculture
and poor productivity. These problems have not been solved, he says, and grain
stocks remain low. "If you find then that there's a downturn in activity (and)
there's a cutback in production, we could find ourselves back into the kind of
emergency situation that we had earlier this year," he says.