UN summit vows to halve hunger, boost food output
A UN summit vowed Thursday to halve global hunger by 2015 and take "urgent" action over the global food crisis, but only after going into overtime at a fractious summit in Rome.
In a final declaration at the gathering -- which saw some 6.5 billion dollars (4.1 bln euros) pledged, but which exposed strains notably over biofuels -- world leaders also agreed to boost food production in poor countries.
"We are convinced that the international community needs to take urgent and coordinated action to combat the negative impacts of soaring prices on the world's most vulnerable countries and populations," it said.
The summit was an "important first step" but not sufficient to tackle the global food crisis, British charity Oxfam said.
Oxfam Chief Executive Barbara Stocking said in a statement that while leaders of the world's richest countries had "acknowledged the importance of aid to agriculture", the global food crisis needed "a wide-ranging plan to resolve it."
"As the world's most powerful countries, they must provide more money to deal with the immediate impact of the current crisis but also tackle some of the contributing causes by ending compulsory biofuels targets and providing more long term aid for agriculture," she said.
"The current crisis illustrates starkly that what we need is not business as usual but deep reform of the international trading system," she said.
The declaration was criticised even before it was formally agreed, with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini calling it "disappointing."
The text was "unfortunately very watered down with respect to the initial ambitions," he said, cited by the ANSA news agency.
Reaffirming a UN goal despite the current crisis -- in which soaring prices have sparked famine and food riots around the world -- the summit vowed to cut "by half the number of undernourished people by no later than 2015."
"There is ... an urgent need to help developing countries and countries in transition expand agriculture and food production and to increase investment (from) both public and private sources," the statement added.
The declaration was finalised only after wrangling went down to the wire at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) headquarters in Rome, with biofuels and trade barriers among the most contentious points.
Biofuel development is promoted notably in Brazil and the United States, but criticised by others as taking up land that could otherwise be used to produce food.
In what critics would likely see as ducking the issue, the declaration says biofuels present both "challenges and opportunities" -- and calls for more research.
The discord blew into the open at a sometimes stormy final session after the talks went into overtime, in which three Latin American countries -- Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba -- repeatedly voiced their dismay.
Cuba's delegate at the final session notably lashed out at the United States and the "sinister biofuels strategy" as well as the "leaders of consumption" which he said marred the accord.
Speaking after the 11th-hour accord, FAO chief Jacques Diouf said some 6.5 billion dollars had been pledged at the summit.
Major pledges came from the Islamic Development Bank (1.5 billion dollars), France (1.5 billion dollars), the World Bank (1.2 billion) and the African Development Bank (1.0 billion), Diouf said.
"Our conference was not a donor conference, but we were pleasantly surprised to receive extremely generous pledges," Diouf said.
The first day of the summit Tuesday saw colourful remarks by the presidents of Iran and Zimbabwe about Western pressure, while there has been plenty of criticism of rich countries' protection of their markets.
But by Wednesday, John Holmes, head of the UN task force on the crisis, said a "broad consensus" had built around an action plan which is to be presented at a Group of Eight meeting in Japan this month, and a G8 summit in July.
Food prices have doubled in three years, according to the World Bank, sparking riots in Egypt and Haiti and in many African nations. Brazil, Vietnam, India and Egypt have all imposed food export restrictions.
In the summit declaration, the leaders vow to "use all means to alleviate the suffering caused by the current crisis, stimulate food production and increase investment in agriculture."
But Italy's foreign minister lamented the lack of real solidarity at the summit.
"There were grand statements, assertions of principle, but I didn't hear the sort of unanimous cohesion that would have been necessary," he said, according to ANSA.