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Agriculture Ministers Meet in Berlin to Renew Efforts to Reduce Food Waste and Eliminate Hunger

January 25, 2012 |

Ministers from 64 countries gathered in Berlin for the fourth Berlin Agriculture Ministers’ Summit to sign a declaration and issue a communique this past weekend underscoring the importance of improving environmental sustainability and reducing food waste in order to better address the interrelated issues of poor nutrition, food insecurity and scarcity.

The ministers called on the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to “draw up concepts for reducing the loss and waste of food,” and to cooperate with governments and other stakeholders to enact such policies, according to an International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) report. Present were agricultural ministers from Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, and the UK, along with counterparts from some three dozen developing countries.

This year’s Summit took on some additional significance and urgency as agricultural and other high-level government representatives from around the world are preparing for this year’s Rio+20 Summit, which will take place in the Brazilian coastal city in June. Rio+20 will mark the 20th anniversary of the landmark Earth Summit, which took place in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Observers noted that the Berlin Summit represented an opportunity for agriculture ministers to raise and highlight the issues of food security, malnutrition, poverty and sustainable agriculture’s role in economic development in advance of Rio+20, which is still largely considered the preserve of environment ministers and issues.

FAO director-general Jose Graziano da Silva emphasized the need for a “new agricultural paradigm…one that allows us to increase yields while using fewer resources. About 80 percent of the increase in food production that is needed to eliminate hunger and feed a growing world population will have to come from increases in yields and cropping intensity in developing countries.”

Tackling Food Waste and Poverty

Germany’s host farm minister Ilse Aigner emphasized the need for policymakers to address unsustainable consumption, as well production, patterns. Brazil’s da Silva echoed her statements, noting that at an estimated 222 million metric tons, the amount of food wasted each year is roughly equal to sub-Saharan Africa’s entire food production of 230 million metric tons.

It’s poverty, not lack of food, that’s the root cause of hunger and malnutrition, da Silva stated. “People are hungry not because there is not enough food available but because they do not have the money to buy food,” he said. Da Silva lead Brazil’s ‘zero hunger’ program, which is credited with lifting 28 million people out of extreme poverty, the ICSTD noted.

“We cannot ask them to wait for the structural changes to happen, we need to provide immediate assistance while we work on those changes,” said da Silva. He advises policy-makers to explore “cash for work and cash transfer programs” to stimulate growth in local markets, which were the mechanisms Brazil used to address poverty and food security in recent years.

Agricultural subsidies continue to be an obstacle for seriously dealing with these issues. Germany’s Aigner told reporters she was against all subsidies for exports. Subsidies in place at present are problematic in that they serve to protect home markets and producers from imports while making it easier and cheaper to export, which complicates the issue for both developed and developing countries.

The EU has made substantial reductions in agricultural subsidies to farmers, but it continues to maintain relatively high tariffs that protect home markets and producers. Both types wind up distorting markets and trade patterns.

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