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Mahamad Rodzi Abdul Ghani




Mahamad Rodzi Abdul Ghani





World Agricultural Forum fails to agree on global
World Agricultural Forum fails to agree on global hunger strategyDate Posted: 5/31/2001Financial Times, London, 31/5/2001 (Financial Times) - Anarchists andenvironmentalists were missing from the World Agricultural Forum in StLouis in the US state of Missouri this week. But even without organisedprotests at the meeting - attended by representatives of agribusinesses,multilateral agencies and developing countries - there was little harmony.While US and European companies hawked technology as the solution toundernourishment in developing countries, international agencies andnational representatives saw a host of more immediate and mundaneproblems. These included inadequate farm size, lack of investment, tradedistortions and subsidies in the industrialised countries.As the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) pointsout, recent international efforts to reduce the numbers of underfedpeople, primarily in developing nations, are falling short of objectives.This is not for want of agricultural production. "If all food produced inthe world were to be divided equally among its inhabitants, every man,woman and child would consume 2,760 calories each day," says JacquesDiouf, the FAO's director-general.Yet even the relatively modest objective, adopted five years ago, ofhalving the number of undernourished people by 2015 - to about 400m - willbe missed if current trends persist. At present, about 8m people a yearare moving from the "hungry" category to that of adequately fed, accordingto Mr Diouf. This is well short of the 20m needed to keep up withpopulation growth.Then there is the prospect of a sharply rising global population in thedecades ahead. Projections vary, but the United Nations thinks the worldpopulation could be 9bn-plus by 2050, compared with 6bn at 2000.That leaves some agricultural economists calculating that demand forcereals could rise by as much as 40 per cent by 2020, and for meat, by 60per cent. Although land under cultivation will probably also rise, it isunlikely to match the population growth rate.Given recent experience, everyone is wary of drawing catastrophicMalthusian conclusions. Over the past two decades, rising agriculturalyields have meant that food production growth has more than matchedpopulation trends, with food prices falling significantly.With the prospect of another round of world trade talks now back on thehorizon after the Seattle debacle, developing countries are pointingvigorously to the distorting implications of food support payments inindustrialised countries.They point out that agricultural subsidies in the developed nations areabout the same as the total GDP of sub-Saharan Africa."In 1999 alone, the total support to agriculture by OECD (industrialised)countries was estimated at Dollars 361.5bn, or 1.4 per cent of their totalGDP. Certainly, this support is in accord with WTO (World TradeOrganisation) agreements, but there is little doubt that it gives acompetitive edge which poorer countries cannot match," said Mr Diouf.At the same time, there is the question of the extent to which developingcountries themselves - and multilateral agencies - have been missingopportunities for structural change or infrastructure investment inagriculture. Pointing to the tens of millions of small-scale farmers inIndonesia, for example, Bungaran Saragih, the country's agricultureminister, acknowledged that the result was inadequate capital to buy farm"inputs" (such as fertiliser) and reduced bargaining power.Even representatives of the World Bank admit the organisation's lending tofarm projects has dwindled to an all-time low (as a percentage of thetotal budget), and that there is a need to foster structural change aspart of the loan programme."We would like to shift our strategy towards (encouraging) efficiency,"said a senior adviser. "Small is not always beautiful in a globalisedagricultural market."Last, there is the thorny issue of technology. St Louis is home toMonsanto, perhaps the company most closely associated with agriculturalbiotechnology, and representatives of other large agribusiness companies -such as Cargill, Bunge, Dow Agrosciences - were out in force. For the mostpart, issues such as genetic engineering were wrapped together with lesscontroversial topics such as yield management systems."Technology will be absolutely essential, but the answer does not lie withone technology, rather a technology toolbox," said Charles Fischer,president of DowAgrosciences, the chemical company's agribusiness arm.Even so, the responses from some developing countries remained cautious.The earlier "green revolution" - which dramatically increased riceproductivity - "has given rise in Asia to the idea that technology is apanacea", noted another Indonesian representative. But, he added: "Sincethe 1990s, we have begun to suffer setbacks - soil degredation, diseases.""We need a very wide range of technologies - and ones that are appropriatein one region may not be appropriate in another," suggested Gerard Viatte,director for food, agriculture and fisheries at the Paris-based OECD. Adiplomatic thought - but one which seems unlikely to resolve the debate.