FAO chief calls for measures enabling rural smallholders to prosper

UNITED NATIONS, March 30 (Xinhua) — Absolute levels of hunger and poverty are the most dramatic issues when it comes to addressing inequality, Director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Jose Graziano da Silva said Wednesday.

“The most pressing priority in terms of inequality is to help those people that are still living in extreme poverty and suffering from hunger,” da Silva said at the Special Meeting on Inequality organized by the United National Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

The meeting was convened to discuss what in recent years becomes one of the world’s most pressing public policy themes.

Inequality, both within and among countries, can threaten economic growth, da Silva said, adding some 80 percent of the world’s population suffering from hunger and extreme poverty live in rural areas, where many depend on agriculture but have access only to degraded natural resources.

On top of that, the world already has enough food “to feed every person,” he said, underscoring how insufficient access to food rather than insufficient production is the main cause of hunger.

Policy decisions at the global level can aggravate or help improve local situations in which inequality is a problem, da Silva said, urging consideration of the concept of a fair price for food over pursuit of cheap food.

For decades, intensified food production, coupled with policy decisions such as export subsidy schemes, import limits and practices bearing high environmental costs, made it easier for European, North American and South American countries to export foods — albeit at a high environmental cost — at a time when fiscal and financial constraints forced many developing countries to drastically reduce investment in their own agriculture, he noted.

One result was that family farmers often could not compete with cheap imported food.

Fostering more sustainable food systems, ensuring inter-generational equity and encouraging the strengthening of local food production in developing countries must now be guiding principles, he said.

FAO welcomed the results of the World Trade Organization Ministerial Meeting held in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, last December, as the agreements pointed towards eliminating agricultural export subsidies while allowing developing countries to continue stockpiling public food stocks to ensure food security, he said.

Public stocks can be used for various purposes, including guaranteeing stable markets for family farmers and minimizing excessive food price volatility, da Silva said.

The Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) set up by FAO at the request of the Group of 20 (G20) largest economies in the world is an instrument that contributes to curbing volatile prices and creating more stable food markets that minimize risks for poor producers and consumers alike, he said.

It also provides a forum for coordinated policy responses if prices do move suddenly, he said.

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