Leaders urged to salvage UN World Food Summit as hopes for action on hunger fade

Monday’s UN World Food Summit in Rome (16-18th) could be a waste of time and money unless world leaders intervene now to salvage it. Governments are at risk of throwing away a great chance to stop more than one billion people going hungry.

The current declaration finalized Tuesday night (10th) says little new. Meanwhile, this summer’s G8 pledge of $20 billion to tackle hunger appears to have been grossly overstated. The new money amounts to little more than a one-off payment of around $3 for each hungry person – barely enough for a single hot meal.

A rehash of old platitudes

“The declaration is just a rehash of old platitudes,” said Francisco Sarmento, ActionAid’s food rights coordinator. “It says hunger will be halved by 2015 but fails to commit any new resources to achieve this or provide any way of holding governments to account through the UN’s Committee on Food Security. Unfortunately the poor cannot eat promises“.

"ActionAid appreciates Pope Benedict XVI’s attendance at the Summit but frankly he needs to pray for a miracle if the G8 can only find $3 billion in new money to solve world hunger,” said Sarmento. “That is less than Goldman Sach’s $3.2 billion profit announced on the eve of World Food Day.

“Currently, many rich countries seem intent on trying to increase food production by simply pushing for more chemical fertilizers and new technologies, particularly in Africa. This could offer some poor farmers short-term relief but it is not the answer to the structural problems behind world hunger, nor is it sustainable. It will simply condemn the developing world to a future of repetitive food crises and more environmental degradation,” said Oxfam spokesperson Frederic Mousseau.

The summit is largely ignoring vulnerable groups

“Instead we need more investment in better policies, institutions, services and training to encourage sustainable farming adapted to local agro-ecological environments. Smallholder farmers, mostly women, are on the frontline in the fight against world poverty, hunger and climate change and we must not continue to ignore them,” said Mousseau.

The summit is also largely ignoring other vulnerable groups, such as landless farmers and the urban poor who are in desperate need of long-term social protection and livelihood support as an alternative to short-term food aid.

“Rich countries are failing to show enough interest and urgency. At the G8 in Italy this summer they pledged $20 billion for agricultural over three years, so they believe they have done enough. They haven’t – and the $20 billion is a mirage. Less than a quarter of this money is new. The UN itself says that $25-$40 billion in public spending is needed each year just to keep up progress towards achieving the first Millennium Development Goal to halve hunger by 2015,” Mousseau said.

Developing countries must play a bigger role

Developing countries must also play a bigger role in the summit by committing to spend 10% of their agricultural budgets and focus their plans to reach the poor and hungry. Oxfam and ActionAid say, at a minimum, this UN World Food Summit must:

  • Endorse and fund a reformed UN Committee on World Food Security as the central high level political platform for food security;
  • Increase public support for sustainable production by smallholder farmers and social protection in developing countries to fight poverty and hunger and to build resilience to harmful climate change.
  • Agree at least a $40-billion-a-year rescue of the Millennium Development Goal to halve global hunger and turn it into country-specific commitments, with proper plans and resources for food security and rural development focusing particularly on smallholder farmers.

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