Food diplomacy

THE UN has rightly minced few while warning of an unprecedented global food scarcity catastrophe if immediate short as well as long term measures are not undertaken to offset a crisis staring practically the whole world in the face.

Food prices have risen 71 per cent over the past two years to a 30-year high in real terms, 100 million people are estimated pushed into hunger world-wide, food production will need to double by 2050 to accommodate increasing demand and population numbers and food riots have erupted in Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan, besides collapsing the government in Haiti.

There is little disagreement as regards the right route to take as the much trumpeted market delivery system has already been thoroughly refuted and developments mandate a return to the old ways when official development aid spending in agriculture amounted to an impressive 17 per cent in the ‘80s, as opposed to a dismal three per cent now. However, while the emphasis on increased agriculture production sinks in, particularly in poor countries, debate on a number of important issues needs final settlement.

The first is of course the food protection argument. The UN has kept its position in opposition to export restrictions and import tariffs as major producers have initiated expected price and export controls, leading in cases like India-Africa interaction to a new round of food diplomacy that is set to dominate much of the coming months, even years. Then there is the biofuel argument as it becomes difficult for stakeholders to take issue with resentment in the economic south, angry that most of the increased maize production last year went not to food stores but fuel experiments such as ethanol. Oil is definitely a worry and global inflation is a problem, but should food be compromised at a time of unprecedented global hunger is a question even the staunchest proponents of alternate energy will struggle with.

Europe, too, comes under scrutiny as its paranoia with genetically modified foods continues to thwart food production increase efforts, principally across Africa. There would be little use of enhanced technology assisted yield if a big market is simply too jittery about buying the produce.

It needs little reminding that most of the precious time has been lost in endless policy differences. For concrete progress to be made, the above will have to be settled so words can begin translating into action. Even then, there’ll be a lag before the outcome starts altering.

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