Meeting of the Latin American & Caribbean Economic System (SELA) on "The world food security and responses from the high-level conference of FAO in June 2008"
SELA Headquarters, Caracas, 30 October 2008

Posted October 30th. 2008

Remarks by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael of Guyana

Mr. Chairman,

When we met at SELA in May to discuss this issue, we looked critically at what was widely labelled as a global food crisis. Since then, many changes in the world economy have occurred. We are currently in the midst of what is termed a global economic crisis which, surely, is adding greater pressure on the food situation that has not significantly improved.

As we all know, many of the critical interventions for a durable solution to the food crisis have taken place in a multiplicity of international forums. In many instances, the failure to pursue these interventions effectively is a result of situations ranging from poor coordination and communication to a lack of sufficient concern for the plight of the underdeveloped countries and the poor living in both developing as well as developed countries.

We had met in May just a few days before the special summit of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). No doubt, the findings of our May meeting were fed into the FAO summit whose final report made some very interesting proposals. But these proposals require financing for them to be properly implemented. However, with the world economy under severe pressure, many countries and regions face difficulties in applying the remedies suggested by the FAO summit.

Perhaps, one of the few regions where we have seen a practical effort to overcome the food crisis is within the PetroCaribe alliance which in July established the PetroAlimentos [PetroFood] Fund to provide assistance for agricultural projects in the countries of the grouping - those of Central America and the Caribbean, including Guyana and Suriname. But what must be kept in mind is that this Fund was created by the government of Venezuela through a donation of half a dollar on every barrel of oil sold for more than one hundred dollars outside of the PetroCaribe countries.

However, over the past month, the price of oil has dropped dramatically, and with the price now much below one hundred dollars a barrel, this means that the collection in the Fund has remained static. Without a doubt, the PetroCaribe countries will have to re-examine the situation regarding the availability of regional funds to promote their agricultural programmes.

Despite the disadvantages, countries in this region have been making valiant efforts to expand their agricultural production. Campaigns to grow more food are now very popular, but at the same time production costs have jumped upwards through the escalating prices of imported fertilisers, agricultural machinery, spare parts and fuel.

At the global level, leaders of the developing countries continue to urge the UN to render greater assistance in introducing schemes to alleviate the situation regarding food production. This was reflected in numerous speeches at the recent UN General Assembly. Obviously, relatively not very much has been done since the FAO meeting six months ago. This can be understood by the fact that financial pledges made for various initiatives are yet to be fulfilled.

I want to stress that that the World Bank has warned that priority must be given to the agricultural sector in the development process if the Millennium Development Goals of halving extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 are to be realised. With the world in its current economic state, it is now looking rather doubtful that these goals can be met within the next seven years.

Let us keep in mind, too, that the global demand for food is expected to double by 2030. This means that measures for the short and longer term supply - including increased productivity and technology transfer - must be urgently put into action by the international community to prevent widespread starvation.

While much has been done to improve the science and technology related to agricultural expansion, the tools required to increase production and productivity are largely unavailable to the majority of small producers. This situation is compounded by the unjust global trade arrangements which place added pressures on small economies and small producers. Certainly, urgent efforts must be made by the international community to conclude the Doha round of negotiations in the WTO to cater for the needs and interests of developing countries.

I must emphasise that Guyana has made a number of proposals over the past nine months on what can be done in the medium term to improve the situation affecting global food supply. Most of these I had already outlined during our meeting last May.

One of our proposals calls on the international financial institutions to provide concessionary term credit for small agricultural producers to assist them in overcoming the high cost of restarting after losses due to floods, pests or other natural phenomena.

In addition, Guyana has proposed the United Nations should establish a special fund which should be easily accessible for food security, and to provide support for access to appropriate technology, new varieties, and training for small-scale agricultural producers.

Further, my country believes that the UN Global Fund for Adaptation to Climate Change must adequately provide for assistance to poorer countries to carry out the additional infrastructure works required for effective water management in relation to both floods and droughts resulting from climate change.

Here in the Latin American and Caribbean region, these forms of assistance, without doubt, are greatly needed. We need swift and positive action - not soon, but right now.

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