Rome Food Summit is a flop

There was little good news for the world’s billion hungry people at the UN World Food Organization (FAO) Summit held November 16 – 18 in Rome. FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf told reporters afterwards that, “There are declarations, promises, and indications for action, but no action.” “We were expecting much more,” said Oxfam International spokesperson Gwain Kripke.

Diouf apparently was not. Opening the Summit in the midst of a hunger strike, he knew that among leaders of wealthy G-8 nations, only Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi would be attending. His office was only blocks away.

The Summit turned down a UN recommendation that rich northern nations set aside $44 billion annually for agricultural aid, directed primarily at small farmers. Nor did the Summit agree to a goal of removing world hunger by 2025. Observers now see U.N. Millennium Development Goal of halving the world’s hungry by 2015 as a distant dream.

Jacques Diouf drew attention to the $365 billion rich nations annually award their own industrialized farmers, the worldwide total of $1,340 billion in annual military expenditures, and trillions of dollars allocated for economic stimulation.

The Summit produced a bland declaration calling for coordination, improved distribution of resources, direct aid for vulnerable populations, and “rural sustainability,” all suggestive of a “Baroque [and] bureaucratic” mindset,” according to the Mexican daily La Jornada. Addressing the Summit, Pope Benedict 16th condemned egotism and food speculation.

Among the representatives of 93 nations and multiple NGO’s on hand were Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay. Speaking to reporters, Lula noted that “For some countries, hunger is invisible.” Lugo drew attention to the paradox of multinational agricultural corporations increasing production and profits, while hunger rises. He castigated the United States and European Union “where amassers of money have profited, distorting markets and affecting thousands of family businesses in the South, now collapsed.”

Heading Cuba’s delegation, Agricultural Minister Ulises Rosales del Toro, blamed developed nations for food shortages despite ample world food production, because “they imposed trade liberalization among clearly unequal actors.”

Representative of peasant organizations and social movements gathered November 13-17 in Rome for an alternative forum on behalf of “Food Sovereignty for the Peoples, Now.” Reporting on its deliberations, Nettie Weibe, spokesperson for the international peasant group La Via Campesina told Inter Press Service that, “Food production is absolutely necessary to food security, and it is farmers who produce food and put it into the market.” “Corporate, industrial [food] production” has replaced “the farmer part of it,” she explained, adding that “Small- scale farmers must regain control of land.” On its web site La Via Campesina denounced the Summit: “There were no concrete measures taken to eradicate hunger….or to stop the expansion of agrofuels.”

According to, the “global farmland grab” was the Summit “elephant in the room.” Investors are colluding with governments to take control of tens of millions of hectares of prime farmland in Asia, Africa and Latin America.” Governments have found “a new strategy to feed their own people without relying on international trade [and] private investors see agricultural land … as a new source of guaranteed returns.”

Heading the U.S. delegation to the FAO Summit, acting USAID Administrator Alonzo Fulgham reiterated U.S. intentions to double international aid for sustainable agriculture. That pledge was instrumental, according to Reuters, in persuading the G-8 nations recently to deliver $22 billion over three years for food aid. Washington, however, requires that funding be channeled through the World Bank with donor nations designating the recipients. Critics back a reformed FAO Committee on World Food Security that bases allocation of aid money on “one country, one vote.”

Hunger in the United States apparently was not on the table in Rome. As the FAO Summit was opening, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released data showing that 14.6 percent of U. S. households in 2008 “had difficulty putting enough food on the table at times.” The 49 million victims of food insecurity – up from 36.2 million in 2007 – included 16.7 million children.

Photo: / CC BY 2.0



W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.