24 October 2008, New York/Rome - Former US President Bill Clinton urged the international community to stop using the global financial crisis “as an excuse” to avoid dealing with escalating hunger, adding that over the long term, only agricultural self-sufficiency could take a significant bite out of world hunger and stave off future financial woes.
President Clinton made the remarks during his keynote speech at a World Food Day commemoration at UN Headquarters, marking the 63rd anniversary of the foundation of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
“Food is not a commodity like others,” said Clinton, who heads an international non-governmental organization bearing his name.
“We should go back to a policy of maximum agricultural self-sufficiency,” Clinton said. While there would always be a global market for crops like rice, wheat and corn, he added, “it is crazy for us to think we can develop a lot of these countries where I work without increasing their capacity to feed themselves and treating food like it was a color television set.”
Clinton called for an increase in fair-trade provisions, direct marketing schemes and other policies designed to level the playing field between agricultural producers in developed countries and the mostly small farmers who are responsible for the lion’s share of worldwide food production.
The theme of this year’s World Food Day observance was World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy, but the event took on an added sense of urgency amid the rise in hunger and economic worries.
“The food crisis, the energy crisis, and the financial crisis all point to what an inter-dependent world we live in and how we cannot escape each other’s fate,” said Clinton.
“It is quite important for the wealthy countries and for wealthy individuals and corporations to realize that however badly they have been hurt in this financial crisis, it cannot be an excuse to avoid dealing with some of these other matters, because dealing with the other matters will actually help us over the long run to escape another financial crisis.”
Speaking before Clinton took the podium, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on countries to work together to come up with a “comprehensive approach to food security.”
“The current difficulties will only intensify if we fail to take resolute action now,” the UN chief said.
“Long gone are the days when we could deal with one problem at a time,” said UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, who called on donor countries to triple the funds available for assistance to developing countries.
“We must seek solutions that transcend narrowly-defined national interests and serve the good of all our peoples, nations as well as our fragile planet,” d’Escoto told participants.
Social fallout and call for Food Security Summit
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf also warned of broader social consequences if hunger is left unchecked.
“The widening gap between fabulous wealth and abject poverty has pushed many dispossessed and desperate people to exile, overseas or intra-continental, in search of the promised land.
“Faced with immigration, some wealthy have barricaded themselves in their fortresses. But how can massive exodus be prevented other than through economic growth and especially agricultural development, given that 70 percent of the poor live in rural areas?”
Diouf called for an urgent review of customs tariffs and other technical barriers which he said “distort the rules of competition in international trade.”
“We need to build new international relations that will provide the farmers of developed countries with an income that is comparable to that of their fellow citizens in the secondary and tertiary sectors, but without penalizing the farmers of developing countries,” Diouf said.
“Finally, the United States, together with the countries of the G8, whose presidency will be assumed by Prime Minister Berlusconi, the European Union, the G5, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the other Member States of FAO and the United Nations must be able to convene, during the first half of 2009, a World Summit on food security at the level of Heads of State and Government, in order to reach a broad consensus to eradicate hunger from the world. We must, during this World Summit, be able to find US$30 billion dollars per year to develop rural infrastructure and to increase agricultural productivity in the least developed countries.”
Figures released recently by FAO show that 75 million more people slid below the hunger threshold in 2007, bringing the estimated number of hungry people worldwide to 923 million.
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