Former prime minister Joe Clark co-chaired McGill's Global Food Security conference last week. .Chronicle, Nav Pall
Soaring food prices are affecting more than Canadian households. In the world’s poorest nations the impact of high costs for nutrients has pushed 75 million people into hunger thus far.
At the landmark Global Food Security conference organized by McGill University’s faculty of agricultural and environmental sciences out of the McDonald campus in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, experts from the United Nations, the World Bank and various organizations dedicated to solving world starvation, gathered downtown from Sept. 24 to 26 for the first time since the crisis began last year to discuss many aspects of the issue including their organization’s plan to weakening international support.
In 2007-2008 food prices sky rocketed due to elevated oil value and the production of ethanol, causing widespread hunger in many nations as well as riots in some. “This conference did what others have not, which is offer a solution,” said Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher, Nigerian high commissioner to Canada. “People always think about energy not realizing without food governments would not be able to function. “Oil is not sustainable, but food is,” he added.
Many ideas to answer the crisis were given by the 40 experts from Canada, China, Egypt, Europe, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Kenya, Morocco, and the United States. But one stood out the most, the notion of production farming. Instead of cultivating land to make ends meet farmers would begin selling crops to a local market. Consequently, nations would reduce their dependence on foreign goods and stimulate their local economy with cash flow.
However, the international financial crisis is causing industrialized nations to reduce aid thus causing set backs for growth in the developing world. In September 2000, world leaders agreed to sign the UN Millennium Development Goals which plans to eradicate poverty by 2015. Canada along with the United States, Japan and other economic powerhouses pledged at least 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income. However, that number has been reduced to 0.28 per cent, 0.16 per cent and 0.17 per cent respectively; only Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Denmark have kept their promise.
A significant shift in aid, coupled with drought and high prices in imported foods has left many countries, particularly in the horn of Africa, in a “very dire situation”, according to Henk-Jan Brinkman, chief of Economic Analysis of the World Food Program, the UN's largest humanitarian network. “We had to adjust our programs (to bring food to those in need) and make sure there was no further deterioration in nutritional status,” said Brinkman, emphasizing the importance of nourishment. “In certain areas we did have to create programs to address new vulnerable groups. The urban areas have been of particular concern for (African government) where rapid (nutritional) deterioration can occur because of high food prices. “We are spread very thin. We are almost doubling our budget from 2007 and 2008, if all funding comes through, so we are doing a lot more with just a few more people,” Brinkman added.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon reported not a single African nation was on track to achieve its development goals for 2015 if funding continued its downward trend. In order to get back on track, the world’s industrialized nations would need to pledge an extra $72 billion.
Recently, the UN took a shift towards Public Private Partnerships while governments began to look inward to stabilize domestic economies. Last Friday, the Secretary General’s office announced $16 billion was raised in a coalition of government leaders, business executives, philanthropists, civil society and non-governmental organizations. “Both (governments and private sector) have a role to play, government are critical in providing the framework, regulations, structures, legal framework, enforcement of law, property rights protection, so that the private sector can do its job,” said Brinkman. “In many areas there have been very innovative PPPs that have created new nutritional products due to a partnership of private companies, NGOs and government institutions.”
Other notable guest speakers were former Canadian prime minister Joe Clark, MP Michael Chong, former UN deputy Secretary General Louise Frechette, Kenya’s High Commissioner to Canada Judith Mbula Bahemuka and the World Bank’s Derek Byerlee.