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World Food Program Director Urges Countries to Donate Food Surpluses - 2002-07-23


The director of the U.N. World Food Program has urged governments to meet global food shortages by donating their huge agricultural surpluses. James Morris, who was recently appointed a special envoy for the food crisis in southern Africa, offered a novel proposal for how this could be done without disrupting trade.

Mr. Morris believes there is enough food around to feed all of the world's starving people. However, he says governments are not giving it away because the amount of food produced is subject to regulation in the world trading system.

The executive-director of the U.N.'s main food agency has a relatively simple, though perhaps not easy, solution. He says governments should decide to exempt food surpluses from agricultural trade talks, thus freeing the excess food for immediate delivery to famine areas. "It would be a fairly easy mechanism to solve our needs," he said, "and the burden would be inconsequential on any national agricultural economy or on any agricultural trade issues in the world."

Mr. Morris says a lot of countries are paying a huge amount of money to store their surpluses, which end up mostly as wasted resources. "At the end of the day, the food could be spoiled," he said. "It could be used for animal feed, or simply discarded. And if the world would look at exempting its surplus commodities from normal trade discussions and allow them to be used without political discussion for humanitarian purposes, it is probably the best way for us to make a giant step forward."

The World Food Programme needs about $2.5 billion in cash or commodities this year alone to feed people from Afghanistan to southern Africa. It fears it could fall about a billion dollars short of that goal.

As for southern Africa, where 13 million people in six countries face starvation, Mr. Morris says he has about half of what the region needs right now. He warns it is imperative that relief workers get most of the food to the affected areas before the October rains.

Mr. Morris has set up an office in Johannesburg for channeling food directly to the six African countries. About half of the affected population lives in Zimbabwe. The next hardest hit, in terms of number of people, is Malawi, followed by Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland.

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