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UN Calls for Increased  Investment in Agriculture for Developing Countries

The chief of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says the trillions of dollars spent rescuing the international financial sector is "disproportionate" to a call for increased agricultural investment in developing countries.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi is calling for more investment and development assistance into the developing world's agricultural sectors to end the "permanent food crisis" that has evolved over recent decades for many regions.

Speaking at a conference on the global tapioca industry, Supachai, said a sharp fall in official development assistance (ODA) into the agricultural sector and greater dependency on global food markets had resulted in many countries, especially in Africa, becoming major food importers.

In an interview with VOA, Supachai said industrial nations needed to review their assistance programs that have seen a shift towards education and health over recent years, and a focus he believes, is too narrow to ensure development.

"This must be redressed, rebalanced. I quoted an 85 percent reduction in the past 20 years," he said. "We have come to the understanding that in order to meet the social targets you need to do more economic productive capacity investment. You cannot meet social targets by putting money only in health and education".

Supachai said spending on the financial sector rescue packages in the United States and Europe appeared to be "disproportionate" to the needs for development in the agricultural sector in several emerging countries.

"Very disproportionate; and to think what we need in agricultural development, which is so badly needed, it is only in terms of hundreds of millions and here we are talking about rescuing financial institutions in terms of trillions of money," he said. "I think the world has gone astray."

Up to $4 trillion is being injected into the U.S. and European financial systems. Supachai said while this is necessary for global economic recovery, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is pressing for more development funds into agricultural development rather than merely in subsidies.

Supachai also said a comprehensive strategy is necessary to be applied to improve agricultural yields, raise productivity, as well as improve areas of human development.

The global challenge was that of the world's population of six billion, just two billion people have a "reasonable" life-style, but many of the remaining four billion live on less than $2 a day.

Supachai said as a result the pressure on commodities and food production would be "tremendous" over the long term and a recent decline in commodity food prices was likely to be only temporary.

Further efforts to deal with the issue of food security will be raised at a meeting later this month in Spain.