No food talk

Rich and poor leaders give the World Food Summit a miss. They don't care for the hungry.

Published: Monday 15 July 2002

the recently concluded World Food Summit at Rome was a sorry affair. The aim was to review the progress made since the food summit in 1996 when the world had jointly resolved to halve the number of malnourished to 400 million by 2015. But the report card is shameful. The world has millions of hungry people and over 28 per cent of the African population is termed as "chronically hungry".

This summit was marked by the absence of world leaders -- only a few heads of nations found it important enough to attend. The summit had the fimiliar rote, concern for world hunger, for poor accessibility, for global disparity and the need for agricultural research and investments. And it ended with with some good (and meaningless) words -- and some not so good -- as it urged for concerted action to reduce hunger and put its faith in the growing biotechology industry to help feed the hungry.

The world today has both the means and the know-how to eradicate hunger. It needs to seriously invest in rural economies so that people have access to water resources and infrastructure. In this, the use of new (or old) ideas need to be adopted so that local food security is increased in the vast semi-arid, hilly and mountainous regions of the world. The world has food surpluses but complete and total food insecurity.

In this there is the need for investment -- or call it subsidy -- to the poor farmers of the world, who are forced today to discount their tomorrow so that they can survive today. Let us be clear that the rich nations -- grouped under oecd-- spoil their farmers rotten. Farm subsidies in these countries amount to as much as us $12,000 per farmer, per year. George Bush is rubbing salt on the wound with his farm bill which gives his rich farmers further dole. In contrast, the concessional assistance that rich countries provide the developing states is worth a mere us $8 billion, or just us $6 per farmer. Our bankrupt nations are withdrawing their subsidy programmes as well. And even though we would be the first to argue that the current Indian subsidy regime is unsound, it is also clear that rural economies will need support -- restructured so that they reach the poor for whom they are designed.

Agriculture has become big business today. But this is probably also why we have so much food and so many hungry at the same time. Good business is not always good politics. We need more world leaders and not hawkers and grocery shop owners.

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