Government leaders and officials meet in Rome on Monday for a three-day U.N. summit on how to fight global hunger, but anti-poverty campaigners are already writing off the event as a missed opportunity.
With the world’s hungry topping one billion for the first time in history, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation had called the summit, hoping that leaders would commit to raising the share of official aid spent on agriculture to 17 percent of the total — its 1980 level — from 5 percent now.
That would amount to ê44 billion a year, up from ê7.9 billion now.
But a published draft of the final declaration to be adopted on Monday includes only a general promise to pour more money into agricultural aid, with no target nor a timeframe for action.
A pledge to eliminate malnutrition by 2025 was also taken off the draft, which now states that world leaders commit to eradicate hunger “at the earliest possible date”.
“The real causes of hunger and food insecurity are not even on the agenda or in the draft declaration,” said the London-based think tank International Policy Network, which blames trade restrictions for the rise in malnutrition.
Last year’s spike in the price of food staples such as rice and wheat sparked riots in 60 countries, hoarding and a scramble by rich food importers to buy foreign farmland, pushing food shortages and hunger up the political agenda.
Food prices have fallen back since, but they remain high in poor countries and FAO warns sudden price rises are very likely.
A G8 summit in July pledged ê20 billion over the next three years to boost agricultural development, in a big policy shift towards long-term strategies and away from emergency food aid.
But apart from Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, G8 leaders are skipping the food summit, which will look more like a gathering of Latin American and African heads of state.
Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and are among those attending.
“GET YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER” U.N. officials said those dismissing the summit because G8 leaders are not taking part were wrong, arguing the aim was to get poorer countries on board in the fight against hunger.
“For me, it is not so much the participation of the G8 that is important but driving our message home to the developing countries whose leaders are going to be there, to tell them: get your house in order,” Kanayo Nwanze, head of the U.N.
International Fund for Agricultural Development, told Reuters.
“It’s totally mistaken for us to expect that only through financial assistance from the developed world the developing world will grow its own food and feed its own people.” Still, the absence of many heavyweights means that another divisive issue — who should manage donors’ funds to boost agriculture in poor countries — will not be resolved.
The draft declaration urges a reform of the U.N. Committee on Food Security, which groups 124 nations, to give it a monitoring role and ensure aid money goes to agriculture.
But the United States, the world’s biggest food aid donor, is looking to the World Bank — rather than to the U.N. — to manage at least part of the money.
While governments dither, food companies are stepping up their own investments in sustainable farming to counter price volatility and secure long-term supplies.
“It’s not charity, it’s business,” said Anil Jain, managing director of Indian company Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd, summing up opinions at a business forum organised by FAO to drum up support from the private sector.