Stale food from Rome

Published: Monday 30 June 2008

the run-up to the high-level conference on food security in Rome promised a substantial shift in agricul-tural outlook, given host Food and Agricultural Organization's avowed focus on biofuels as a major contributor to the global food crisis. But a few days before the meet, biofuel proponents led by the us launched a massive international spin, and now biofuel, a 'crime against humanity', is on its way to find human acceptability.

As before, the food meet sliced the world into two. Earlier, Angela Merkel and Condoleezza Rice had blamed India and China's rise to two meals a day as the reason for the food crisis. In the meeting, the North blamed the export restriction of grain by certain countries of the South, including India, for the world food crisis. This received important mention in the declaration in the end. But all questions about subsidy to Northern farmers, raised by the South, remained unattended. Protecting its farmers is a prerogative the North continues to reserve for itself. A vulgar act of market domination--it also lowers grain prices, making farmers in the South extremely vulnerable--that never received any mention in the declaration.

Talking of vulnerable farmers brings us to the issue of agriculture being unremunerative for average farmers in developing countries, farmers' suicide being a clear index. The meet did not provide any fresh direction on managing ever-increasing input prices, and securing better output price.

Instead, it ended with the usual promises of money by banks and states. A part of it will be spent by the cash-strapped World Food Programme to provide relief to hungry millions, mostly in Africa. It will be interesting to see how this food will be sourced. Another part of the money, and many loans, will go to poor nations trying to build agricultural infrastructure. The campaign to 'modernise' agriculture in Africa is priority here. The World Bank's concern for small farmers is well known; multinationals dealing in food and seed have made billions out of high prices and speculation. Thus, the crisis will only grow if policies are led by "business possibilities".

Any wise politician would have used climate change and shooting oil prices to start a new chapter of agriculture to shift away from chemical fertilisers and other inputs, or at least start a dialogue on the subject. What we needed was extraordinary wisdom from the global political community; what we got was a reinforcement of earlier bad practices, including promises of money, good only for circulation.

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