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UN hears hopes, plans for world food security
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More than 100 members of the United Nations, its agencies, non-governmental organizations and private foundations took time out Saturday from the annual general debate Saturday to discuss global food security issues.

Tossing ideas and airing agendas on food production and distribution for about 90 minutes, they were led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She was tasked by U.S. President Barack Obama to lead his nation's campaign against food insecurity in the world. Clinton in turn appointed her chief of staff and councillor, Cheryl Mills, to take the point for her.

Clinton figures high on the topic because the United States pledged 3.5 billion of the 20 billion plus U.S. dollars promised to the cause by developed nations and her personal interest in bettering the lives of women and children, particularly since women make up the bulk of small farmers.

"I didn't really fully appreciate food security in its construct; indeed, I always like to say that the first time someone mentioned it to me, I thought, is the food running away, does it need to be armed? It's such an unusual term, and in a way, it's a distancing term," Mills told reporters Friday over at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where Clinton was holding meetings on the sidelines of the UN debate with her counterparts from dozens of countries.

Food security didn't say "people are hungry and that people don't have access to food. It says food security. And while in a lot of ways, it does get at the concept of what you're trying to ensure, is that people have consistent access to food, it doesn't make you feel that emotional moment until someone says people are hungry -- people are hungry and people are dying from that hunger," Mills went on to say.

But that is the crux of the food security problem.

Dr. David Nabarro, a UN assistant secretary-general who is coordinator for Ban's High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, said he wanted to put food security and Saturday's meeting within the context of the General Assembly meeting, the secretary-general and the just-completed G20 meeting in Pittsburgh.

"Lack of enough food to eat, or food insecurity, is the ultimate degradation for humanity," he said.

"It weakens and imperils individuals," he said. "It disempowers and destabilizes societies and insufficient food has long-term disadvantages for women and children in particular. It can scar them physically and mentally for life."

Nabarro pointed out that when food prices rose dramatically in 2008 people rioted in over 30 countries.

"It was an acute crisis," he said, explaining that was why Ban set the task force to ensure the whole of the UN system "worked together to raise billions of dollars to save millions of lives by providing food assistance, setting up safety nets and ensuring urgent support for agriculture that had been badly imperiled by this volatility."

Prices have come down in world markets but are still high in many developing countries.

"Still a billion people are hungry and there is continuing food insecurity," Nabarro said. "In some places it is worse" in poor countries because of the economic crisis.

He said that in the past 15 months the task force has been working with problem, seeking a "comprehensive framework, then building a coalition of support ... to find a better way to ensure that there is food and security for all. If we don't, we are going to miss out on goal No. 1" of the UN Millennium Development Goals, reduction in poverty and hunger.

At Saturday's meeting, leaders, including Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, told of their efforts at establishing food security, followed by officials from UN agencies, and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and private organization, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who told of their plans and objectives.

"We want to support country-led strategies," Ban told the gathering in his closing remarks, before the 95 minute session ended. "We want to develop those strategies in a spirit of partnership among national governments, civil society, the private sector and multilateral organizations. We want them to be implemented through clear investment plans and programs, with the help of bilateral and multilateral financial mechanisms."

He said several speakers "stressed that we need strong monitoring systems to evaluate progress, identify challenges and ensure transparency and accountability. Some of you have also highlighted the need for better coordination."

Ban promised to deliver ideas expressed and suggestions to the high-level panel.

Even before the meeting began, Nabarro had forecasts on the future of food security.

"We are going to see a revolution in agriculture during the next five years," he said. "We are going to see an approach to agriculture that sees poor people, particularly smallholder farms -- and there are around 500 million of them around the world, and very especially women farmers at the canter of the agriculture development agenda and we will see much more focus on how countries themselves implement food security strategies and programs."

"We are going to see a transformation of markets and trading systems in agriculture and food so that they work more in the interest of poor people and their countries," he said. "This would take time and it requires a lot of work."

"We are going to see the greater incorporation of social protection and safety nets in development programs so that where there are poor people who are suffering as a result of shocks like climate change or economic contraction they are able to access the support they need," he added.

(Xinhua News Agency September 27, 2009)

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