25 June 2011, Rome - Kofi Annan, chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, has warned that the current food security crisis, with almost one billion people hungry, could turn into a permanent disaster, endangering millions of lives as well as international cooperation.
"Along with tackling the linked problem of climate change, delivering global food and nutrition security is the challenge of our time,” he said.
Delivering the 27th McDougall Memorial Lecture on food security today, the former UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize winner said, "if countries cannot come together successfully to deliver food security – this most basic of human needs – our hopes for wider international co-operation look doomed."
He added that over the past few years there has been "an ominous retreat from the idea of a common purpose based on shared values.
We have seen a worrying rise in protectionism, unilateral export bans, land grabs and exclusive deals that meet the food needs of the rich but not the poor."
Frank Lidgett McDougall, an Australian citizen was one of the founders of what was then the League of Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation in 1935. Every two years, before the FAO Conference, the McDougall Lecture is delivered by a prominent personality working in the field of agriculture and hunger alleviation.
Annan said FAO can take the lead in increasing the transparency of global food stocks, and therefore dampening speculation and market volatility, by compiling more accurate and accessible information on the quantity and quality of these stocks.
FAO said last week food prices will continue to rise over the next 10 years, threatening the food security of millions of people in developing and even developed countries. World food output will have to rise 70 percent by 2050 as the planet’s population climbs to 9.2 billion from an estimated 6.9 billion in 2010.
Annan was speaking at the opening of the 37th session of the FAO Conference in which the Organisation is expected to elect a new Director General.
Land grabbing criticised
In his lecture, the African statesman also hit out at the phenomena of “land grabbing” by which countries are buying or leasing land in other nations to increase their own food security.
"It is very disturbing that a recent report found that agricultural land that adds up to the size of France was bought in Africa in 2009 alone by hedge funds and other speculators," he said.
"It is neither just nor sustainable for farmland to betaken away from communities in this way nor for food to be exported when there is hunger on the doorstep. Local people will not stand for this abuse – and neither should we."
Annan did say, however, that large commercial farms have a role to play but must integrate their activities within communities, serving as a hub to link smallholder farmers to value chains — markets, supermarkets and agribusiness.
The former UN Secretary General also called for more research into the benefits and impacts on food security of crop-based biofuels, for more focus on smallholder farmers and women and emphasised the need for increased research and development.
“Even within existing cultivated land, a doubling of cereal yields would turn Africa into a major food surplus region,” he said.
Annan called for fairer trade rules and farm subsidies, pointing out that OECD countries spend over $385 billion dollars supporting their farmers.
“This, according to Oxfam, was nearly 80 times the money spent in development aid to agriculture – a figure which had fallen by over 70 percent, in real terms, in the previous two decades,” he said.