Counting grains

Published: Monday 30 June 2008

Counting grains

During the conference several countries and international banks and donors pledged funds to fight hunger and help agricultural development. "We are yet to have talks with them (donors) to identify the terms and conditions of the aid. However, this is a good beginning. We had requested for us $1.7 billion but have received much more than that. This will help us assess the problems country by country and start a market study to ensure that farmers get good seeds, good irrigation facilities, infrastructure and storage capacity for the forthcoming growing season," said Diouf.

Countries in need of aid, however, will have to wait until the G 8 summit in Japan to be held in July. "The question is will the money promised this week be in addition to previous commitments, who will be spending on it, on what and when? Ideas in Rome must be followed by cheques in Japan," said Barbara Stocking, director, Oxfam GB.

Down to Earth

The World Food Programme (wfp), which has pledged us $1.2 billion of food assistance to 62 most vulnerable countries, has assured that it would make purchases in developing countries to support farmers there.

The funds will be used for both immediate relief and long-term investment in agriculture to boost production. The un secretary general said the world food production needed to rise by 50 per cent by 2030 to meet the growing demand.

Second Green Revolution
In the wake of the food crisis, several African nations decided to go for modern agriculture on the lines of the Green Revolution in India. This got an impetus with the setting up of the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (agra) in 2006 by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is an organization of farmers, agro-dealers, scientists, private firms, African national leaders and institutions. During the meet, agra, headed by former un Secretary General Kofi Annan, signed a memorandum of understanding with wfp, International Fund for Agricultural Development and fao to boost food production.

What has not gone down well with civil society groups and ngos is the fact that though agra says it is supporting small farmers, Annan held a separate meeting with private players, including the International Seed Federation, International Fertilizer Association and the International Feed Association, and not them. Neither agra nor the companies mentioned the meeting in their press conferences.

FAO had requested for $1.7 billion food assistance but received much more than that

"Had small farmers been on the minds of the leaders they would have consulted farmers' organizations instead of holding a private event with private companies. The talk about small farmers is just lip service," says FIAN International's Flavia Valente.

agra's policy and partnership vice-president, Akinwumi A Adesina, however, said the alliance was working with seed companies in Africa because "Africa alone, and not transnational companies, will have to solve its problems" (see interview). Though Africa is not talking of genetically modified (gm) crops, it is definitely looking at producing improved varieties. Marcel Bruins, secretary general, International Seed Federation, agreed that the focus of the federation should be on Africa. "It is estimated that 85 per cent of African countries are not members of any of the seed related federation," he said.

Pledged funds
Down to Earth
Note All figures in US $
Seed. Subsidies. Liberalization. The countries of the South have all too often seen their hopes dashed at international conferences, where they have found themselves pushed to the corner unable to stand up to pressures from rich nations of the North. But this time it was different.

There was hope, the world food crisis conference in Rome would come up with sincere policy decisions that would address the challenges to food security. But it failed to discuss the challenge to food security from biofuels and climate change; it failed to take a tough stand on either. Nor could it persuade rich countries to bring down farm subsidies that are distorting agricultural trade. States and financial institutions agreed that their agriculture policies had failed and there was a need to increase investment in agriculture, but beyond that there was no sign of a fresh approach.

Like so many international negotiation rounds before, this conference too saw the urgent needs of the world's poor hijacked by the interests of the rich and powerful nations.

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