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The World Agricultural Forum in St. Louis - 2001-07-28

St. Louis, the largest city in the U.S. mid-western state of Missouri, is surrounded by corn and wheat fields, forests, mines and livestock farms. So the availability of food, fiber and fuel is rarely in short supply. An independent organization based in St. Louis is promoting a global debate on issues critical to providing these and other resources for everyone in the world.

The World Agriculture Forum in St. Louis, Missouri, was founded four years ago to bring together leaders in the food industry, government, technology, environmental protection, transportation and other organizations responsible for the well-being of the world's growing population. Chairman Leonard Guarraia says a group of St. Louis business leaders created the Forum to promote non-confrontational discussions of world problems, such as global hunger.

"The World Agricultural Forum," says Mr. Guarraia, "is the only neutral venue for bringing together all of agriculture, from financing to the production of agricultural products, to the processing, transportation and grocery manufacturing, to the final consumer. And it brings all of these groups together to discuss the key issues in terms of trade, science, technology consumer needs, consumer benefits, the medical aspects and international trading and marketing of products."

Leonard Guarraia says the organization is based in the United States, but it has members throughout the world. About 350 delegates attended the World Agricultural Congress in May of this year. Among the key issues discussed were world hunger and unemployment.

"There are between six and eight hundred million people who are starving, half or more than half are children," says Guarraia. "How are we going to alleviate that? What are we going to do about technology and acceptance of technology, what are we going to do about the people displaced from jobs as you increase your technology base? How do you plan for that ahead of time so that you don't have societal disruption?"

Issues such as global hunger and world trade are discussed at many international meetings. But Mr. Guarraia says the World Agriculture Forum is the only major venue open to all groups, from government agencies, industrial representatives and tradesmen to non-governmental groups and grass-root organizations. Mr. Guarraia points out that the World Agricultural Forum is not a negotiating forum. Participants are not pressed to find solutions or fight for their positions. The bi-annual World Congress enables participants to hear one another's point of view and become aware of different problems facing various parts of the world. In addition, annual regional congresses enable participants to focus on problems specific to their area.

"We are now in the process of planning a regional congress in India for this year and an African congress for the year 2002," says Mr. Guarraia. "And that will be the first time in Africa that we will bring all the nations together to discuss agriculture and agricultural trade and we have formed a committee of the presidents of the number of countries of Africa who are developing the agenda and the speaker list."

Forum leaders say the World Congress covers a much broader range of issues than most other global organizations. Bruce Adaire, one of the founders of the World Agriculture Forum in St. Louis, says the developed world has a very different set of objectives than developing countries and negotiations between the two sides can be very tough. He says the Forum's World Congress prepares participants for future global encounters, such as a World Trade Organization summit.

"You can't negotiate a distribution system or an infrastructure within a country at a WTO [meeting]. But it [the discussion] can be tied to the basic economic development of a country. And again, we go back to that issue of how the country pays for its food and what does it do with it once it gets it. It must develop its own economy. Therefore, it must be a player in the world market. Now that is a WTO issue because now you are talking tariffs, you are talking trade issues, you are talking subsidies and all of the things that have to be hammered out between the developed and the undeveloped - or developing - world."

Bruce Adaire and Leonard Guarraia say there are many reasons why the World Agriculture Forum is based in St. Louis. One of them is the city's location in the center of the so-called bio-belt: an area that is developing industries, businesses, technologies and research in the field of biology.

"Within 500 statute miles (about 800 kilometers) of St. Louis, 54 percent of all US agricultural production takes place," says Mr. Guarraia. "Fifty-one percent of its most fertile land is available. It is home to the largest inland water-port for agricultural products in the world. You have a concentration of chicken, beef, pork production within 500 miles of St. Louis and it is the largest growing area for corn, soy beans, wheat and cotton and some rice, by the way. So it is the [agricultural] epicenter of the United States. The only larger exporting entity in the world than the St. Louis' 500 statute miles is the [entire] United States of America. So that's why it is here."

Leonard Guarraia and Bruce Adaire say they hope the World Agriculture Forum in St. Louis, Missouri, will become the catalyst for change to meet the world's needs for nutritious food, fiber and fuel.