UN General Assembly tackles the world food crisis

General Assembly met on
July 18, 2008 to review the status of hunger due to rising food
prices and to recommend immediate, short and long term steps to halt and
reverse the situation. Reports that came in on the eve of the meeting painted a
dim picture of the current and future trends. On its front page, the York Times
reported that soaring grain prices put catfish farms in the
USA on the endangered list. Because farmers are unable
to cope with soaring cost of corn and soybean feed, they were abandoning their
ponds resulting in unemployment and loss of purchasing power with which to buy
food. The reduction in catfish was also contributing to the food shortage. The
Wall Street Journal and Financial Times reported that the
Argentina senate had defeated the government farm tax bill which
had been intended to enable prices to move in line with international prices.

In Nicaragua thousands took to the streets in the capital to
protest against the high cost of living and to demand the resignation of the
country’s president. In
Somalia, it was reported that the number of people in need
of food assistance was expected to rise to 3.5 million by December of 2008. The
report noted that families are increasingly hungry because they cannot afford
to buy food, even if available in the market. Accordingly malnutrition was
increasing with a sharp rise in children being admitted to nutritional
clinics. And in Uganda a report released
by the Uganda Child Rights NGO revealed that over five million children were stunted with
serious cases reported for Acholi and Karamoja regions as well as the districts
of Kabale and Kisoro in south west Uganda.

its meeting on July 17, the United Nations Economic and Social Council heard
reports that small scale farmers were not benefiting from the opportunity
offered by the rise in food prices. The benefits were reaped by unscrupulous
middlemen. Subsequent comments noted that while crises can be considered as
offering opportunities to rebuild a new, it would be unfortunate to present the
desperation of millions of low income and vulnerable people in their struggle
to feed themselves and their families as an opportunity.

presenting his report entitled “Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA)” to
the General Assembly, the UN Secretary-General stressed that it was a moral
outrage that at least 800 million people were going to bed hungry every night
(the European Union reported a figure of 862 million people). The President of the General Assembly observed
that because of a complex set of factors, more than two billion people world
wide especially in the least developed countries were struggling to survive
because of higher food prices.

General Assembly also learned that the rise in food and oil prices could
trigger stagflation – slowing economic growth and rising inflation and
unemployment – thus severely weakening the economies of up to 75 developing
countries and reducing the GDP by 3 to 10 percent and pushing at least 100 million
people into poverty. “This is why it is an emergency”, the President declared.

review of the factors responsible for the rising food prices showed that they
were many, complex and interrelated. They included diverting food to bio-fuels, dwindling food stocks, the
impact of weather such as droughts and floods, a different composition of the
food basket (meat, eggs, fish and diary products instead of grain) demanded by
the emerging middle class (on average it takes four pounds of grain to produce
one pound of meat), the neglect of agriculture for decades in many developing
countries, preference for cash crops instead of food crops based on comparative
advantage which encouraged developing countries to produce flowers instead of
food crops and to export foodstuffs previously produced for domestic
consumption such as millet, fish and beans and the lack of political will to
use existing science and technology and capital to solve the food problem and
increase the purchasing power of

Assembly then debated the way forward. There were calls that actions to end
hunger should be crafted against the backdrop of the human right to food for
everyone. Further the responsibility for doing so rested with each country
which has the fundamental obligation to develop policies and strategies for
ending hunger according to its circumstances and within the framework of sustainable
development. The immediate, short and long-term recommendations in the
Comprehensive Framework for Action: scaling up food assistance and nutrition
intervention for vulnerable populations, school feeding programs, enhancement
of safety nets, establishment of a global reserve for humanitarian food, promotion
of small holder agriculture through the use of improved and tested seeds and
fertilizers, investments in rural and agricultural institutions and
infrastructure and the elimination of food losses received broad endorsement by
boosting public spending. The improvement of trade and market access to
developed economies and the involvement of NGOs and organizations of civil society
were also stressed. It was also underscored that the crisis required immediate,
coherent and coordinated response with the UN system playing a central role.

developed partners were called upon to increase their contribution so that the
CFA’s estimated expenditure of between $25 to 40 billion per annum can be met.

was suggested that food security and development should be one of the main
priorities of the 63rd regular session of the General Assembly
starting in September, 2008.

erickashambuzi@yahoo.com & www.kashambuzi.com.