The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is setting up a task force to tackle the global food crisis.
Mr Ban said the world faced “widespread hunger, malnutrition and social unrest on an unprecedented scale” because of soaring food prices. He said the priority was to feed the hungry by closing a $755m (£380m) funding gap for the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) this year.
He urged donor countries to make more money available now. WFP says only 62% of the $755m it needs to feed them has been pledged so far, and, of that, only $18m has actually been received.
The task force, to be chaired by Mr Ban, will be made up of the heads of UN agencies and the World Bank. “The first and immediate priority issue that we all agreed was that we must feed the hungry,” Mr Ban said after a meeting of agency heads in the Swiss capital, Bern.
He also called on the international community to “urgently address trade-distorting subsidies in developed countries, and the ongoing Doha trade round. “But also in the long term we need to address the challenges caused by climate change,” Mr Ban added.
The head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, who also attended the meeting in Bern, urged countries not to use export bans to protect food stocks. “These controls encourage hoarding, drive up prices and hurt the poorest people around the world who are struggling to feed themselves,” he said.
US President George W Bush said he was “deeply concerned” by high food prices at home and abroad. He said that diverting corn for the production of biofuels had only accounted for 15% of the rise in prices, which had otherwise been caused by weather, energy prices and increased demand.
“It’s in our national interest that we – our farmers – grow energy, as opposed to us purchasing energy from parts of the world that are unstable or may not like us,” he added. Mr Bush said the long-term solution would be to switch to cellulosic ethanol, which uses grasses or other non-food sources to produce fuels.
China’s rising food needs
The Beijing Morning newspaper reported that China might lease fields in Latin America, Australia and the former Soviet Union to replace farmland lost to urban and industrial development. Ten years ago a Chinese company formed a joint venture with the Cuban government to set up two farms to grow rice in Cuba. A similar venture has been set up in Mexico. More here.