World Food Security Summit: The quiet before the storm

Nov 16th, 2009 | By | Category: Food for Thought

By ALEXIA UNDERWOOD
November 16, 2009

ROME — The Food and Agriculture Organization building was humming with low-level, languid activity Sunday afternoon, as journalists and FAO officials prepared for Monday’s launch of the World Food Summit on Food Security.

Journalists speaking a myriad of languages checked e-mail, made phone calls, joked and lounged around the blue-carpeted media room, awaiting the event and the resulting news coverage blitz. The conference, which will begin with an address by Pope Benedict XVI, stretches over the next three days.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf are also on the speaker line-up. Over 60 heads of state are expected to attend.

“You see this? Remember this,” FAO employee Maria Folch said, waving her arm at the relaxed journalists, the barely half-filled room. “It won’t look like this tomorrow.”

A connected event, the First Ladies Summit on Food Security and Women’s Access to Resources commenced today, but media were not allowed into the closed afternoon session.

Suzanne Mubarak, the first lady of Egypt, is presiding over this summit. (Full name: ‘The Second First Ladies Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement on Food Security and Women’s Access to Resources.’)

Their concept paper affirms that the primary victims of the food crisis are female-headed households and the urban poor. “Women produce 60-80 percent of the food in most of the developing countries,” it states. Some factors restricting women’s relationship to food production: lack of access to land, financial credit, education, training and research and technology.

Their suggestions? More direct investments in projects aimed at helping rural women and more emphasis on gender equality, among other things.

Despite the quiet pre-conference mood, the confusion that ensues when several international heads of state, NGOs and one pope converge on a single building was in full force.

The closest metro station (Circo Massimo) was locked down, streets were blocked off and police and security clumped together in small groups along Viale delle Terme di Caracalla.

This journalist was mistakenly ushered in through the main doors (frantic calls of ‘Signiora…Signiora!’ finally halted my wayward journey) and I was eventually sent back to the media entrance, a half-block away, next to some dumpsters and a petrol station.

Well-dressed international delegates wandered near the stately silver FAO building on the same street, enjoying the mild weather. None paid much attention to the remains of the historic Roman Circus Maximus, which served as an astonishing backdrop to the low-key bustle and pomp.

Right now, there’s little to do but wait. Tomorrow, it will be a different story.

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