France, FAO Call For Greater Regulation To Avert Food Riots
France, the current chair of the G20, and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) "warned on Friday about the risk of a new global food crisis and ensuing riots, calling for greater regulation to curb speculation on commodities markets," Reuters reports.
"We share the same view that today the real risk of a global food crisis exists," French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said at a news conference. The news conference came just a day after FAO released its January Food Price Index, which reached a record high (Aloisi, 2/4). Le Maire was in Rome to meet with the heads of the FAO and World Food Program (WFP), according to the Canadian Press. The meeting is part of France's effort to work with U.N. agencies, international financial organizations and some G20 members in an attempt to improve the regulation of global agricultural markets and make them more transparent (Winfield, 2/5).
"Without naming countries, Le Maire and [FAO Executive Director Jacques] Diouf spelled out the risk that rising prices would fuel more food riots, calling for structural measures including increased market regulation to curb price volatility," the news service writes. "Regulation does not mean fighting against markets, but improving the way in which markets function," Le Maire said, Reuters writes (2/4). He also "called for an end to market speculation on commodities, saying its equivalent to speculating on world hunger. 'Speculation on world hunger is economically dangerous and morally unacceptable,' he said," the Canadian Press reports.
At the press conference, Diouf noted the G8's $22 billion initiative aimed at strengthening global food security. "We must make sure these pledges are kept," he said.
Josette Sheeran, head of the WFP, "said the protests in the Middle East and North Africa are evidence of just how important food prices are to stability. ... She welcomed the centrality of the issue on the agenda of the G20, warning that it was a very serious issue. 'When it comes to food, the margins between stability and chaos are perilously thin,' she said. 'Volatility on the markets can translate quickly to volatility on the streets and we all should remain vigilant'" (2/5).
Reuters notes that France has prioritized the issue of food prices on the G20 agenda "and has called a meeting of G20 agriculture ministers in June in Paris to discuss concrete measures" (Aloisi, 2/4).
"South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Monday called for a task force to help secure a stable supply of food amid growing concerns about global food shortages and rising prices," the Wall Street Journal reports.
"While Mr. Lee linked the need for action to possible food shortages triggered by climate change, his comments reflect concerns in South Korea over global food-price volatility, given that the country imports around 70% of its food. 'Chances are growing that the whole world will suffer a food crisis due to climate changes,' he said. 'We need to be prepared and work out a strategy on agricultural and fishery products,'" the newspaper reports.
The article notes the factors contributing to food price rises in South Korea before highlighting the situation on the rest of the Asian continent, where "bad weather, more-affluent populations and underinvestment in agriculture have pushed up prices of items including wheat, rice and onions in India, chilies in Indonesia and water spinach in China. ... Reports suggest North Korea is also experiencing food-price surges," the Wall Street Journal writes (Nam, 2/7).
"As food prices rose for the seventh month in a row in January, ... some analysts are quick to make comparisons to the dry years of 2007-2008. But others warn against panic and oversimplified predictions of an impending food crisis, which contribute to price volatility," Inter Press Service reports in an article highlighting the perspective of experts who do not think the world is facing a new food crisis. According to Jennifer Parmelee, a spokesperson for the WFP, staple foods, such as cereals and rice, which are consumed by the world's poorest people, have so far not been affected by price spikes. "We do closely follow the rise of international food prices because we're also buying," she said. "While food prices are high globally, in many of the regions where we work, prices have remained stable and in some cases have fallen," Parmlee said, noting that the price of beans in Central America fell in December.
Abdolreza Abbassian, FAO's senior economist; Derek Headey, a senior researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute; and Jayati Ghosh, agricultural economist and professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, are also quoted in the article (Muscara, 2/4).
Christian Science Monitor Examines Corporate, Foreign Investment In African Farmlands
In related coverage, the Christian Science Monitor writes about demonstrations in Madagascar last year protesting former President Marc Ravalomanana's $6 billion deal with Daewoo, granting the South Korean company permission to lease 3.2 million acres for 99 years to grow corn and oil palm. The publication highlights that situation to illustrate the issues involved with corporate land deals in Africa and how it affects global food security.
"Africa is drawing dozens of corporate giants like Daewoo and even governments of such nations as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Japan, and even India (which is food self-sufficient) to grow the food and biofuel crops they need back home. The coup in Madagascar and food riots in Mozambique last August which followed news of a similar food and biofuels deal with the European Union and Brazil are a warning sign of the volatility of the global balance of wealth and poverty that foreign investors and African leaders face," according to the Christian Science Monitor.
"By all rights, Africa could be a breadbasket for the world. ... But the continent continues to import the bulk of its staple food items ... And with its vast rural populations living on less than $1 a day, it would seem hungry for such deals. So the continent's discontent with these deals takes many development experts by surprise. Almost any investment in a poor country generates jobs, tax revenues, and better skills for the future. But in today's Africa, investment in agriculture ... is increasingly portrayed by the media and rights groups as 'land-grabbing,' neocolonialism, and even a threat to a country's ability to feed itself. And when many African countries are still unable to feed themselves, foreign investment can become the spark for revolution," the publication writes (Baldauf, 2/6).
A second story in the Christian Science Monitor examines how foreign investment in the Zambian firm Chobe Agrivision could serve as a viable business model for expanding food security on the rest of the continent.
"President Rupiah Banda's administration aims to ease the nation from a reliance on boom-and-bust mining and to improve food security. It's a popular move for a country with a relatively small population and large plots of well-watered lands. And the move enjoys support from local farmers, who see foreign investment not as a threat, but as welcome new attention from government on the needs of farmers," the publication reports before highlighting why this model has worked. Zambia's abundance of available land and Chobe's outreach to small farmers are among of the reasons noted (Baldauf, 2/6).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.