Delegates to the U.N. World Food Crisis Summit in Rome have promised more help for developing countries. The summit was convened by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to deal with the problem of soaring food prices.
One of the delegates was Simon Maxwell, the director for the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Britain’s leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues. He told VOA from London that the summit exceeded expectations.
“Our expectations were not so high because there was always a risk that [President] Robert Mugabe would derail the summit or the U.N. agencies would end up quarrelling," he said. "But in the end they didnt do a bad job.”
Maxwell said the United Nations produced more money and showed that U.N. agencies can work well together.
“They kept the issue on the agenda and that is important because they now pass the flag to the G8 [summit of the Group of 8 industrialized countries], which meets in Japan in a month or so,” he said.
He noted that the food crisis is certainly urgent, although food prices had come down a little bit since the peak in March.
He added, “But we know poverty reduction efforts have been put back as much as seven years by the increase in food prices. There have been riots in more than 30 countries. People are suffering as a result of these high prices so we need to make sure we have the right measures in place.”
Maxwell said that includes making sure there is good social protection, a safety net for people who are affected in the short run and investment in agriculture so there will be enough food in the future.
He addressed the concern that food subsidies in the developed world have contributed to soaring high prices in the developing countries.
“I don’t think food subsidies have made much difference to the current food crisis. And even if the subsidies were taken away, the price of wheat and rice would only go up a little bit compared to the price rises weve seen,” he said.
Maxwell cautioned, “We need to make sure that the increase in food prices does not become an excuse for countries to start protecting their agriculture.”
He said as the world population goes up and people’s financial situation improves, they want better diets and that requires greater food production. “
So, in order to stay ahead of the increase in population and increase in demand, there is need to keep agricultural production growing. It means investment in infrastructure, in irrigation, in markets, in new technology, even in genetic modification if necessary to make sure the world doesn’t run out of food.”
But, he says, “We haven’t run out of food. Food production this year is going to be at least two billion tons, which is plenty for everybody, but we need to make sure that we deal with the current problem and then carry on growing into the future