Saturday, June 25, 2011

G-20 lists measures to steady food prices

PARIS - The largest economies in the world agreed Thursday to a series of measures to stabilize world food prices after recent fluctuations caused global instability, especially in poorer countries.

French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said the G-20 summit of agriculture ministers had agreed to calm the world market by establishing a transparent system to track global supplies, set up emergency food reserves, engage in more research into new wheat strains and create a rapid-response mechanism to deal with drought in producer countries.

"It is a tour de force for the international community that lets you still believe in the power of solidarity and working together to address the big questions facing the planet, like the future of world agriculture," Le Maire told journalists.

Non-government organizations working on food issues, however, slammed the accord as too timid, saying it did not address the controversial issue of biofuels, which take up land that could be used to grow food, and doesn't focus enough on building up emergency stocks.

"Fixing the global food system and ending the food-price crisis requires major surgery, yet the G-20 produced little more than a sticking plaster," said Jean-Cyril Dagorn of Oxfam, adding that measures needed to be taken to stop the prices rising in the first place.

Their criticisms were seconded by the international alliance of Catholic development agencies and the Action Aid international poverty organization.

The accord was still, however, a rare case of international agreement in the area of food and agriculture, where countries have long been at loggerheads because of divergent interests.

International farm groups have also called for more regulation in the market, but that has been resisted by more free-market-oriented governments like Britain.

The gravity of the situation, however, was driven home when rising energy prices prompted a spike in food prices in 2008 that sparked riots in almost two dozen nations over three continents.

Last week, David Nabarro, the U.N. special representative on food security and nutrition, said that a repeat of 2008 is very likely and shortages of food, water and power are bound to create social anxiety and political instability in the future.

A recent U.N. study also predicted that prices will be 20 percent higher for cereals and up to 30 percent higher for meat in the coming decade compared to the past ten years.

With the global population expected to increase from 6.9 billion to 9 billion by 2050, the problem of feeding the world put food security at the top of G-20 summit's agenda.

"We all recognize the necessity of putting in place on the market of agricultural products new rules and regulations," Le Maire said.

Several dozen French farmers dressed as livestock and ears of corn demonstrated near the Paris bourse on Wednesday, protesting the role of financial markets in the food crisis.

The largest organization of European farmers, the COPA-COGECA, however, welcomed the agreement.

by Paul Schemm Associated Press Jun. 24, 2011 12:00 AM

G-20 lists measures to steady food prices

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