Bern: UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday ordered a top-level task force to take on the global crisis caused by rising food prices and urged key producer nations to end export bans. The UN chief said the immediate priority must be to “feed the hungry” and called for urgent funding for the World Food Programme (WFP).
Ban said after a meeting of the heads of 27 key international agencies that the new task force would be led by the UN’s top humanitarian official, deputy under-secretary John Holmes.
Ban urged countries such as Brazil and Egypt to drop export restrictions on certain foods and commodities, saying they have reduced supplies and contributed to price hikes.
Argentina, Brazil, Vietnam, India and Egypt have all imposed limitations on the export of certain produce in order to ensure food security for their populations.
“Domestic policy measures that correct distortions and do not jeopardize the supply response need to be put in place, together with budget support measures and balance of payments support for the most affected countries,” Ban said.
His calls were echoed by World Trade Organization director general Pascal Lamy and World Bank head Robert Zoellick, who were at the conference.
“We urge countries not to use export bans. These controls encourage hoarding, drive up prices and hurt the poorest people around the world,” Zoellick said.
He welcomed Ukraine’s moves in lifting a restriction on wheat exports, noting that it resulted in an immediate lowering of prices. Lamy described such restrictions on exports as “not good economic solutions” in the short term. “It’s obvious that such measures would result in a further increase of prices,” he told AFP.
One paradox of the food crisis is that many food exporters such as Brazil, who have been at the forefront of calls for trade liberalization in WTO’s Doha Round, are now adopting protectionist measures. Ban said the World Food Programme must be “urgently and fully” funded to help poor countries. “Without full funding of these emergency requirements, we risk again the spectre of widespread hunger, malnutrition and social unrest on an unprecedented scale,” Ban warned.
WFP has said it needs an extra $755 million (Rs3027.5 crore) due to the sharp jump in prices. “We have pledges of 471 million, but only 18 million is cash in hand. We can’t procure food until we have cash in hand. So we’re in a really urgent timeframe to getting a commitment as soon as possible,” WFP head Josette Sheeran told journalists.
In just one example of the scale of the problem, the WFP warned on Tuesday that soaring rice prices have forced it to stop supplying free breakfasts to 450,000 poor Cambodian schoolchildren. The agency said the programme was suspended because it could not afford to pay the current high prices for rice, which accounts for 76% of the school breakfasts.
In the long term, the UN chief acknowledged that there is an “urgent necessity to address structural and policy issues that have contributed to this crisis as well as the challenge posed by climate change”. “Further research must be undertaken on the impact of diversion of food crops to biofuel production and all subsidies to biofuels should be reviewed,” he added. AFP