Monday, November 16, 2009

U.N. chief says climate deal key to fighting hunger

ROME (Reuters) - The United Nations opened its world food summit on Monday by saying that a climate change deal in Copenhagen next month is crucial to fighting global hunger as rising temperatures threaten farm output in poor countries.

Government leaders and officials met in Rome for a three-day U.N. summit on how to help developing countries to feed themselves, but anti-poverty campaigners were already writing off the event as a missed opportunity.

The sense of skepticism deepened at the weekend, when U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders supported delaying a legally binding climate pact until 2010 or even later, though European negotiators said the move did not imply weaker action.

"There can be no food security without climate security," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Rome summit.

"Next month in Copenhagen, we need a comprehensive agreement that will provide a firm foundation for a legally binding treaty on climate change," he said.

Africa, Asia and Latin America could see a decline of between 20 and 40 percent in potential agricultural productivity if temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius, the FAO says.

Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to be the hardest hit from global warming as its agriculture is almost entirely rain-fed.

With the number of world's hungry topping 1 billion for the first time, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation had called the summit in the hope 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 $44 billion a year against $7.9 billion now. Farmers in rich countries receive $365 billion of support every year.


But a 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 or 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."

Last year's spike in the price of food staples such as rice and wheat sparked riots in as many as 60 countries. Rich food importers have rushed 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. The FAO says sudden price rises are very likely.

A summit of the Group of Eight leading powers in July pledged $20 billion over the next three years to boost agricultural development, in a big policy shift toward long-term strategies and away from emergency food aid.

But, apart from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, G8 leaders are skipping the food summit, which is looking 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.

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.

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 that aid money goes to agriculture.

But the United States, the world's biggest food aid donor, is looking to the World Bank rather than the United Nations 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 to secure long-term supplies.

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