World's hungry look for hope from food summit
Friday, 06 June 2008

REUTERS, ROME - African countries and anti-poverty campaigners looked to the outcome of a food crisis summit on Thursday for a signal the world will start to produce solutions to stop millions more people falling into hunger.

"The world is facing an unprecedented world food crisis and nowhere is this crisis more serious and acute than in Africa," said Kofi Annan, the former UN chief who now heads a body aimed at creating a "green revolution" in farming in Africa.

After three days of talks between representatives of 151 countries, the summit was due to issue a declaration committing to "eliminating hunger and to securing food for all, today and tomorrow".

"We firmly resolve to use all means to alleviate the suffering caused by the current crisis, to stimulate food production and to increase investment in agriculture," a draft of the declaration said.

Delegates were negotiating late into the night to finalize the statement in which references to trade policy, particularly biofuels, proved contentious.

The United States, which is diverting increasing amounts of its maize harvest into automobile fuel, came under attack from some countries and poverty campaigners who have called for a rethink of policies to promote fuel made from foodstuffs.

Washington says the spread of biofuels has added to the demand for crops, especially maize, and contributed to food inflation, but only by a marginal amount.

Increased global food demand, especially from rapidly developing Asian countries, poor harvests and rising fuel costs are seen as the main reasons commodity prices have doubled over the last couple of years.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development sees prices of rice, corn and wheat retreating from their peaks but still up to 50 percent higher in the coming decade.

The summit, at the Rome headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, was meant to discuss the plight of the 100 million people at risk of joining the 850 million already going hungry due to the price crisis.

"BRUTAL RISE"

President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, a skeptic of international attempts to solve hunger, said the summit had been a waste of time.

"There's been a brutal rise in prices (of food) and we were told there was a threat hanging over the world and all the heads of state were called to attend. I thought it was going to be to answer the question about what should be done, but it wasn't that at all," Wade told Reuters.

"It was just a conference like any other and that's why I was disappointed," said Wade, one of more than 40 heads of state and government who attended the Rome summit.

British-based poverty campaign group Oxfam was more upbeat.

"It would be very easy to dismiss this food summit as a talking shop," said Barbara Stocking, head of Oxfam GB. "But it could be a stepping stone to better policies and the money to implement them."

Although the summit was not meant to produce promises of aid or set new global policies, it has set the tone on food and hunger for more concrete talks in the coming months.

Group of Eight leaders meet at a summit in Japan in July by which time a food crisis task force set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to have issued a concrete action plan.

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