World Summit on Food Security concludes in Rome

Nov 18th, 2009 | By | Category: Student Work

ROME – Financial donations and other efforts to attack food insecurity around the globe need to be “scaled up,” said Jacques Diouf, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Wednesday, as the World Summit on Food Security concluded in Rome.

diouftalkBut the lack of attendance by all G8 country leaders – except Italy, where the three-day summit was held – did not bode well for increasing investment, donations and food aid to where they are needed most.

“I would have liked all countries to be represented by their heads of state or government,” Diouf said, as cameras flashed and reporters scribbled notes, held up microphones and sent text messages. “The funding of agriculture isn’t decided by ministries of agriculture.”

Diouf also expressed frustration that the summit declaration, the product of several round-table discussions and meetings attended by 60 heads of state and more than 2,000 delegates, did not list specific target dates or financial sums for dealing with the increasing number of hungry people in the world.

The declaration did reaffirm the delegates’ commitment to the already-agreed-upon Millenium Development Goal of halving the world’s hungry population by 2015.

International humanitarian organizations Oxfam and ActionAid were quick to release statements condemning the lack of commitment or substantial accomplishments achieved during the summit.

“The World Food Summit failed to make any major breakthroughs. And the G8 leaders didn’t even bother turning up,” said Adriana Campolina, ActionAid regional director for Latin America. “Warm words don’t fill empty stomachs.”

Alternating between French and English during the final press conference, Diouf stressed the importance of looking at long-term structural factors when dealing with food insecurity. Some of the factors included foreign direct investment, technology and climate change.

The summit declaration also called for more attention to climate change, requesting that countries “proactively….increase the resilience of agricultural producers to climate change, with particular attention to small agricultural producers and vulnerable populations.”

Diouf called Sub-Saharan Africa a challenge and said that it was a “great human tragedy” that this region housed the largest percentage of hungry people in the world.

Climate change, he said, made it even more difficult to find solutions to food insecurity, specifically noting the drought in the Horn of Africa and its effect on Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and other countries.

When asked what aspect of food insecurity he would want to focus on in Africa, Diouf chose water as a top priority. He called increasing small-scale irrigation projects, controlling water-sheds and freeing up funds for water projects vital to the future of agriculture on the continent.

In conclusion, Diouf appealed to the media to make “an important effort” to bring attention to the more than 1 billion hungry members of the population, warning that otherwise, the world may “forget completely.”

-Alexia Underwood

fathDay 3, 5:28 p.m.: While there were plenty of critics who called the U.N. World Summit on Food Security fruitless, not everyone felt the conference was a failure, as some have described it.

We had the privilege of sharing a press table with Fath el-Rahman al-Gadi, a Sudanese journalist who, after filing his own reports for the newspaper he represented, shared his thoughts with me on the conference.

After one of my colleagues showed him our site and helped him with a minor computer glitch, I asked him for his initial thoughts. He said the efforts by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program, and private and civil society organizations set a “new trend in humanity” for fighting hunger.

Al-Gadi said he had one disappointment, however. Although delegates from 192 countries were represented at the conference, he said, only one country from the Group of Eight–Italy, the host country–was present.

“We felt sorry for that,” he said, “because we would have liked to witness the active presence of the European countries as well as the U.S. of A.”

“With south-to-north collaborations we can build a future,” he added. “Of course, the rich countries can make a significant contribution through funding and through the transferring of technology know-how. But I hope that in the future this trend of absenteeism will no longer exist.”

I also asked al-Gadi to describe what he felt was the most important food security story in Sudan right now. At the moment, he said, the focus is on the country’s rich natural resources, especially those related to land, water and soil. With these resources, he said, Sudan has the potential to compete in world markets provided that the projects concerning food insecurity are sponsored by collaborative efforts between Sudan and the international communities.

Check back later for more updates from Shalwah and Alexia on the final moments of the conference.

–Martin Ricard

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