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Food crisis needs farmer input, forum says.

While record-high food prices, global trade policy and the impact of biofuels on the global agricultural industry dominated an international summit called earlier this month by the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, a parallel meeting of small-scale farmers and anti-hunger activists warned that finding solutions to the world food crisis cannot be left to governments alone.

"While 80 percent of the world's food comes from their work, farmers are not represented enough at the official meeting," said Antonio Onorati, whose group, the International Planning Committee, organized the alternative forum, Terra Preta (Portuguese for "black soil"), held June 1-4 in Rome.

About 120 delegates from international social movements, farmers' organizations, and indigenous groups from the developing world attended the forum on food sovereignty.

"We are here to remind governments that they cannot take any effective decision to solve the food crisis without consulting those who feed the planet," Onorati said.

Herman Kumara, a Sri Lankan farm activist, attended the Terra Preta forum. He criticized the U.N. forum for offering nothing new.

"The proposals offered by world leaders are not suited to the problem," Kumara said. "The U.N. delegates and the heads of state repeated objectives and commitments from the previous declarations in 1996 and 2002." Instead of eradicating hunger, more people are hungry today than ever before, he said.

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Kumara advocates for the concept of "food sovereignty, which involves the study of farming and fishing reforms."

"Small producers," he said, "are the ones who contribute the most to feeding the poor in the world; there needs to be a model of production that permits them to decide what they will produce and how and what they will sell.

"The current involvement of the big multinational companies in the control of resources will not help to resolve the food crisis," he said.

The world food emergency "is a symptom of larger systemic failures, like the promotion of large-scale agrofuel production and the corporate control of the food system," said Ndougou Fall, president of the West African farmers' organization Roppa.

Fall said, "Liberal policies are the origin of the difficulties we are facing in Africa, and have affected particularly the small family farmers, who are no more in a condition to sell what they produce. Many of them have abandoned their lands and moved to cities in search of a job, that they did not find."

He wants governments to reconsider current global trade policies. "African, and particularly West African, agriculture needs to be protected, in order to develop itself," he said.

He is skeptical of opportunities from biofuels. "Even if to a certain extent they can offer some opportunities to us, we have some priorities--feeding people before feeding vehicles."

The cost of major food commodities has doubled over the last two years, with the price of rice, corn and wheat reaching unprecedented levels. Some prices are at their maximum in 30 years.

Over the next 10 years the price of agricultural commodities will remain higher than in the past decade, though coming down from current record prices, according to the new agriculture outlook of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of 30 wealthy nations.

This could worsen the situation of 850 million people already suffering from chronic hunger, the U.N. food organization warned.

[Reporting from AsiaNews.it contributed to this article.]

By SABINA ZACCARO

Inter Press News

Rome
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Title Annotation:WORLD
Author:Zaccaro, Sabina
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Jun 27, 2008
Words:571
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