Enter the Bank

Published: Monday 30 June 2008

Enter the Bank

Down to Earth
World Bank President Robert B Zoellick holds up a bag of rice and a loaf of bread at a news conference in Washington

The un acknowledges that in the past few decades governments and international financial institutions have not paid any attention to agriculture. Now the un, states and financial institutions plan to invest in agriculture to ensure food security. Just before the conference at Rome, the World Bank came up with its 10-point plan to tackle the crisis and announced us $1.2 billion food assistance.

Civil society groups point out that the imf and the World Bank had never shown pro-poor approach."Their approach was largely helpful for agribusiness and those who were making profits," said George Dixon Fernandes, president, Internal Movement of Agricultural Rural Youth (mijarc), a farmers' organization.

un humanitarian chief John Holmes, however, said, "The World Bank and the imf seem to have changed their approach now." But have they? Many observers fear bank loans will come with tariffs and subsidy cuts, which have been responsible for the inflation.The bank has said that to address immediate and long-term challenges, it would boost its support for global agriculture and food and launch risk-management tools and crop insurance to protect poor countries. Farmers' and civil society groups remain skeptic. They think that big agribusinesses will again flourish in the name of agricultural growth and small farmers will be ignored.

Herman Kumara, general secretary, World Forum of Fisher People, Sri Lanka, said the fao meet had ignored "the claims of social movements for more protection to small farmers, land and agrarian reforms along with strong measures to safeguard farmers against market speculations".

Business as usual
Private players, like the International Seed Federation, International Fertilizer Association and the International Feeds Association, played a more prominent role at the conference than any other un conference.

Private players like the International Seed Federation, International Fertilizer Association and the International Feeds Association, played a more prominent role at the conference than any other UN conference

It is only the big companies who have profited enormously out of the food crisis, said Dena Hoff of the National Family Farm Coalition, a farmers' movement based in the us. Agribusiness behemoth Cargill announced that its profit had increased by 86 per cent in the first quarter of 2008.

Profits of Cargill's Mosaic Corporation, which controls much of the world's potash and phosphate supply, more than doubled in 2007, says GRAIN, an ngo working for agricultural biodiversity. The same year, the world's largest potash producer, Canada's Potash Corp, made more than us $1 billion in profit, a 70 per cent increase since 2006, it added.

In April 2008, the joint offshore trading arm for Mosaic and Potash hiked the price of its potash by 40 per cent for south-east Asian buyers, and by 85 per cent for those in Latin America. India had to pay it 130 per cent more than last year for potash.

No push for GM crops
In the wake of the rising food prices, gm technology was being touted as a means of boosting production. Though Holmes had said that gm crop was on the conference agenda, it was not mentioned in the declaration.

"Not only are we unsure about the health aspects of genetically modified crops, introducing them would also mean a lifelong dependency on big multinationals," said George Dixon Fernandez, president, MIJARC, a Brussels farmers' group.

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