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World

G8 farm ministers unveil global food strategy

At the end of a three-day summit on food security, G8 agriculture ministers have called for increased food production to feed the one billion people worldwide suffering from hunger.

Stockpiling corn

Ministers suggest more production, stockpiling to meet demand

Given a lack of progress in fighting poverty and balancing food supply with demand, the ministers said that more food must be grown to feed the hungry. In their 13-point final declaration, participants said they were placing "agriculture and food security at the core of the international agenda." The document will serve as a set of "messages" to the main G8 summit scheduled for July.

The ministers from the US, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia also called for a study on setting up a global system to stockpile essential foodstuffs.

"We call upon the relevant international institutions to examine whether a system of stockholding could be effective in dealing with humanitarian emergencies or as a means to limit price volatility," the ministers said in the final declaration from their meeting, held at a hillside castle in northern Italy.

Price speculation is one of the factors that has helped drive up the cost of basic foods, sparking riots in poor countries. The ministers pledged to monitor the causes of price volatility.

A man sells bananas at the central food market in Villa Nueva, Guatemala

The prices of basic foods have spiralled out of reach for many of the world's poor

"There should be monitoring and further analysis of factors potentially affecting price volatility in commodity markets, including speculation," their statement said.

No new financial measures

However, the statement also contained the stark admission that the world is "very far" from achieving a United Nations commitment to halve the number of hungry people by 2015.

The G8 based its assessment on estimates provided by UN agencies that the number of hungry people is set to top 1 billion this year.

There was no mention of new financial measures to redirect more funds to agriculture, nor did the document identify specific sums of money to be used to replenish and increase food supplies.

Instead, the document stressed the importance of "increasing public and private investment in sustainable agriculture, rural development and environmental protection in cooperation with international organizations."

The G8 also called for enhancing investments in agricultural science as well as "increasingly share technology, processes and ideas with other countries."

In two expanded sessions of the meeting, the G8 representatives were also joined by representatives of the G5 emerging economies -- China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa -- as well as delegates from Australia, Argentina and Egypt and international and UN food agencies.

Oxfam critical of outcome

Poorer nations have long accused richer nations of using "standards" to protect their own products, including foodstuffs.

In the final declaration, the G8 said they would continue to "support capacity building in developing countries in sanitary and phytosanitary standards in order to facilitate access to markets and fulfill requirements of consumers."

Activists protest against biofuel production

Biofuels producers must be more mindful of food security, ministers say

The G8 agriculture ministers in the final declaration also said that while the production of renewable energy sources such as biofuels should be encouraged, this must be done in ways that don't compromise food security.

Criticizing the document, international relief group Oxfam noted that "even without additional money," efforts to combat hunger are possible.

In a statement, it called on rich countries to redirect "a relatively small proportion of the direct subsidies they give to their farmers in order to boost food production in developing countries."

In 2008, rich countries gave $125 billion (97 billion euros) directly to their farmers in comparison to the $5.9 billion they gave to agriculture in poor countries, Oxfam said.

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