International conferences draw attention to the world response to hunger, June 28, 2011
by Jay Sjerven

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Three conferences within a span of two weeks drew the world’s attention toward the unfinished business of reducing world hunger.

On June 22-23, agriculture ministers from the G-20 countries met in Paris. The U.S. delegation was led by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

The agriculture ministers agreed member nations must undertake efforts to make commodity markets more transparent with requisite regulation. The ministers held, “We strongly encourage G-20 finance ministers to make the appropriate decisions for a better regulation and supervision of agricultural markets.”

The ministers agreed to establish an “agricultural market information system” (AMIS) to provide accurate and timely information on world crop supply, demand and food stocks with an eye to curbing price volatility to the extent the latter is swayed by a lack of hard information and to providing early warning of food emergencies.

They said their nations would give “special attention to smallholders, especially women, in particular in developing countries, and to young farmers” to improve agricultural productivity. And there was agreement to employ and disseminate improved practices and technologies to increase crop production.

“The consensus reached today by the G-20 agricultural ministers marks a historic union of resolve in combating the pressing challenges of hunger and food price volatility confronting our world with greater regularity,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Together, the G-20 nations are committed to increasing agricultural production through use of improved practices and technologies and a commitment to new and expanded research and development. To that end, we support the launch of an International Research Initiative for Wheat Improvement to help nations coordinate research efforts on this crucial staple crop.”

Secretary Vilsack added the ministers reaffirmed opposition to erecting trade barriers through export bans. “In particular, we recognize that food export bans restricting humanitarian aid penalize the most needy. Significantly, the G-20 members agree to remove food export restrictions for food purchased for humanitarian purposes.”

Mr. Vilsack concluded, “In the end, this agreement is only as good as the actions we take together to aggressively confront food security’s difficult challenges, but our cooperation as reflected today is a significant achievement for the nearly one billion people grappling with hunger each day.”

As we go to press, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development convened the 13th annual International Food Aid and Development Conference in Kansas City. The conference was attended by more than 600 representatives of non-governmental organizations and businesses involved in international food assistance and development as well as U.S. and foreign government officials. Ambassadors of two nations who benefit from U.S. assistance addressed the conference.

And on June 25-July 2, Kathleen Merrigan, U.S. deputy secretary of agriculture, leads a U.S. delegation to the ministerial conference of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. In addition to addressing issues surrounding rising world food prices, delegates will elect a new F.A.O. director-general to succeed Jacques Diouf, who has served in that position since 1993.

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