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Weekly comment

Food crisis: Time to stop the squabbling

09-Jun-2008

Bickering gets you nowhere. It's a lesson to be learned early in life, but which seems easily forgotten when it comes to tough political issues like measures to curb the food crisis.

I remember arguing with my sister when I was about seven years old. We were each given a bunch of grapes - but hers was bigger than mine and it was so unfair. After ten minutes of hair-pulling, name-calling, and surreptitious attempts to pinch each other's grapes, my grandmother stepped in. She scolded us both roundly, then counted out the grapes onto each of our plates. The role of the UN, of course, is not to impose authoritarian solutions. Last week's Rome Food Security Summit was all about getting world leaders in one place and agreeing on a strategy to ensure access to sufficient food for all. The official statements coming out of the event were heavily laced with the message: "It's time for action". Indeed, early pledges of extra cash to help poor countries better cope with food price fluctuations indicate that certain parties are putting their money where other people's hungry mouths are. But not everyone is happy with the summit's outcome. It saw the signing of a declaration to make food security a matter of permanent policy, and implement short-, long- and medium-term measures to alleviate the current crisis and reduce risk of a recurrence. There have been murmurs that the declaration was watered down as participants were unable to agree on the causes of the food crisis - the very first step towards seeking a solution. Biofuels, for instance, were a big bone of contention. There were proposals for standards or criteria for biofuels, to reduce the effect that competition for grain supplies is having on the availability of grain-based food. However the result was just a call for in-depth study of the sustainable production and use of biofuels - studies that the technology's critics say have already taken place, and have indicated that first generation biofuels are a scourge of food security. As The New York Times summed it up: "Everyone complained about other people's protectionism, and defended their own". The sum of the complaints is that the greedy developing world is unprepared to dismantle its trade barriers and reduce subsidies to its own farmers, so as to give poorer countries a slice of the pie. Just like my big sister. The comments on protectionism sound eerily similar to those made over the stalled Doha trade talks since they began in 2001. But with 850 million hungry people in the world and a need to double food production by 2030, the world really does not have seven years to waste squabbling over who should be giving up what. The FAO's spirit is the one everyone should be sharing. Now is the time for action. It is not the time for vested national interests. And this applies to developing countries implementing export bans on certain staples just as much as the US and EU doggedly propping up their own agriculture through high subsidies. Because if the promises of last week do not translate into serious action, then it won't be a matter of the fighting factions being sent to bed without any dinner. It will be the children of those people who, somehow, scrape by on less than one US dollar a day. What is more, the row will not be over and forgotten the next morning. Lack of coordination and preparedness to take action is likely to result in greater unrest and political instability around the world. So, world leaders, it's time to learn one of the most important lessons of childhood: to share fairly. There's no better time to put that lesson into practice than at the G8 summit in Hokkaido, Japan, next month. Or I'm telling Granny. Jess Halliday is editor of award-winning website FoodNavigator.com. Over the past decade she has worked in print, broadcast and online media in both Europe and the United States. She doesn't fight with her sister very often anymore.


If you would like to comment on this article, please email jess.halliday'at'decisionnews.com

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