U.N. chief: Increase food to avert crisis

U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon called for a drastic increase in food prodution to meet the demands of a rising population and stave off a crisis brought about by oil prices, climate change and the impact of the biofuel market, reported CNN.

Ban, speaking at the opening of a major U.N. food summit in Rome, said production must take urgent measures to feed 862 million hungy people worldwide and ensure security for the global population.

"Hundreds of millions of the world's people expect no less," Ban said.

"Nothing is more degrading than hunger, especially when it is man-made. It breeds anger, social disintegration, ill health and economic decline. In the name of the development goals we all set at the millennium, the right to food, and our common humanity, I urge all of you to act together now."

Ban said countries must also expand microcredit to small farmers, minimize trade barriers and tariffs, and boost investment in agriculture.

Countries must reach a consensus on biofuels -- one of the many causes of rising food prices -- and reduce subsidies to those that produce it, Ban said.

With the world's population expected to grow to 7.2 billion by 2016, Ban said the food problem will only grow if the world doesn't act now.

The head of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which is hosting the conference, appealed to world leaders for $30 billion a year to "relaunch agriculture" and avert future threats to conflicts over food.

The solution, said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, is increasing production and productivity in the low-income, food-deficit countries.

He said the world food crisis has already had "tragic political and social consequences" in some countries and could further endanger world security.

"Important today is to realize that the time for talking is long past," Diouf said. "Now is the time for action."

Diouf noted that nearly a decade ago, more than 100 countries attending the World Food Summit pledged to halve world hunger by 2015. But despite that 1996 pledge, Diouf said resources to finance agricultural programs in developing countries have not only failed to grow but have decreased significantly since then.

Leaders at the summit will be discussing how to sustain emergency deliveries of food when the cost of agricultural products -- and the fuel necessary to produce and distribute them -- is skyrocketing.

"Food distribution combined with fuel (price) increases is exasperating this problem," Jim Butler, the deputy general director of the FAO, told CNN. "As we move food to those most desperately in need, that cost of delivery is significantly higher than it's been in the last two years or so."

Saudi Arabia is giving around $500 million to the World Food Program to deal with the emergency in the short term, but experts say longer-term solutions, like investing in agricultural development, are just as critical.

The United States has committed some $5 billion over the next two years, much of it to help find long-term solutions.

"We'll need to address how we provide the capacity for sustainability, how do you provide the food that the world needs on a continuing basis so that you have continuity in the pipeline," Gaddi Vasquez, the U.S. ambassador to the FAO, told CNN. "It will also be important to invest in research and development and how you address the issue of crop production and other facets of agriculture that are critically important to increase productivity."

Among those attending the Rome summit is Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whose presence was causing outrage among some leaders. Under Mugabe's three-decade rule, the country once known as southern Africa's "breadbasket" has seen food production and agricultural exports drop dramatically.

"While Robert Mugabe makes political statements in Rome, his people continue to face empty markets at home," U.S. President George Bush said in a statement released Tuesday. "The United States currently feeds more than 1 million Zimbabweans and spent more than $170 million on food assistance in Zimbabwe last year. We will continue these efforts to prevent government-induced starvation in Zimbabwe."

Britain's international development secretary, Douglas Alexander, told reporters in Rome that Mugabe has "neither the credibility or the authority" to speak about food prices or food production.

"I regard the attendance of Robert Mugabe at this summit as, quite frankly, obscene," Alexander said. "This is a man who has impoverished his country."

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith echoed Alexander's outrage at Mugabe's attendance.

Mugabe, who is facing a fierce reelection battle with opposition challenger Morgan Tsvangirai later this month, is banned from traveling to the European Union but received special permission to attend the U.N.-organized event.

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