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Humanitarians cool on G8 summit response to food crisis

Cereals displayed for sale in the central market of Kabul, Afghanistan, June 2008. Due to high food prices, the majority of people cannot afford regular daily meals.
Cereals are displayed for sale in central market of Kabul, Afghan (Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)

When the leaders of the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, opened their meeting in Japan on 7 July, World Bank President Robert Zoellick urged them to “seize this opportunity” in the face of a crisis that threatened to push 100 million or more additional people into hunger beyond the 850 million already suffering.

He called for “resources, action, and results in real time” in three areas - meeting immediate needs with safety net support; giving small farmers, especially in Africa, access to seeds, fertilisers and other basic inputs; and easing export bans and restrictions that have contributed to higher prices.

“The G8 did not rise to the challenge laid down by President Zoellick and others,” Oxfam policy director Gawain Kripke told IRIN. The World Bank had no immediate comment.

“As far as I can tell there’s no new money or substantive commitment … Zoellick was calling for action not words, so there seems to be quite a mismatch between his call and what the G8 did,” Kripke said.

“It’s not impressive, it’s not much of an advance on the state of play … they should have been more specific about where assistance should come from and how much it should be. There should have been a bit more introspection among the G8 about the role of G8 country polices in contributing to the crisis, namely agricultural policy, biofuels policy.”

Zoellick said in a statement: “We believe they recognise the danger [of the crisis]. No one has objected - and many support - our proposal to end export bans on WFP [UN World Food Programme] purchases.” Before the summit he had called on governments around the world to ensure access to local purchases for the WFP, and said it was “an outrage” that such purchases were not now exempt from export restrictions.

Photo: Abigail Fielding-Smith/IRIN
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WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran welcomed the leaders’ “resolve” to help protect the poorest and find long-term solutions to the crisis. But, she stressed in a statement: “We need to follow through with practical measures that can make a real difference in addressing urgent hunger needs throughout the world.”

The summit pledged to “ensure the compatibility of policies for the sustainable production and use of biofuels with food security and accelerate development and commercialisation of sustainable second-generation biofuels from non-food plant materials and inedible biomass”.

Missing details

But like much else in the statement there were no concrete details or figures, though the leaders did note that since January they had committed, for short-, medium- and long-term purposes, more than US$10 billion to support food aid, nutrition interventions, social protection activities and measures to increase agricultural output in affected countries.

They called for the removal of export restrictions, and pledged to reverse the overall decline of aid and investment in the agricultural sector, and to achieve significant increases in support of developing country initiatives, particularly in Africa. But, as with other pledges, there were no details.

“There is no concrete proposal for lasting solutions to the global food price crisis,” said the G8 NGO Platform Network, which groups 1,500 humanitarian and development NGOs in the eight countries.

Photo: Brahima Ouedraogo/IRIN
Rioters took to the streets in Burkina Faso's second city, Bobo-Dioulasso, in February 2008 protesting against rising food and fuel prices

“The impact of biofuel policies in developed countries on this crisis was not acknowledged. In addition, the G8 made only a vague commitment to ‘reverse the overall decline of aid and investment in the agricultural sector’,” it added in a statement.

“Unfortunately, the 2008 Hokkaido Summit produced no significant breakthroughs and failed to meet the expectations of firmer and more comprehensive commitments to end extreme poverty and protect the environment.”

But it did applaud the $10 billion contribution, which does not appear to contain any new money, and the pledge to build up local agriculture by promoting local purchase of food aid.

Action Against Hunger called for immediate action. “We are hoping for more than promises or long-term plans that are doomed to fail. We aren’t as optimistic about the prospects for immediate solutions stemming from the recent G8 meetings,” security adviser Ilke Pietzsch told IRIN.


Photo: IRIN
Local and imported food prices rose sharply in 2008, as the local currency dropped

However, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) research fellow Marc Cohen said the summit had made some progress towards meeting Zoellick’s challenge.

“They did put this high on their agenda, probably the highest it’s been since they started having the summits in the 1970s, to talk about hunger and food insecurity,” he told IRIN. “So I think that’s positive. And the endorsement of the UN framework for addressing this was important, to get the richest countries behind that.”

But he noted that they had not really said anything about revisiting mandates in the US and European Union, which set aside quotas for biofuel production from food crops.

They also failed to pledge to reduce their own trade-distorting subsidies and barriers even as they called on others not to take measures such as export embargoes. “That’s a major missing piece here,” he said. “Our [US] own trade policies are part of the problem.”

The leaders tasked an Experts Group to monitor the implementation of their commitments. Zoellick welcomed this as useful in helping to ensure accountability.
But in the view of some, the group would not be overworked. “There are very few commitments so it’s not going to be hard to monitor them,” said Oxfam’s Kripke.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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