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Food production must benefit world’s poor, urge UN-backed scientists

Food production must benefit world’s poor, urge UN-backed scientists

A United Nations-backed group of over 400 scientists are calling for a radical change to the way the world grows food to better serve the poor and hungry and to protect the planet’s resources.

Modern agriculture has brought significant increases in food production, but its benefits have been uneven and have come at a high cost to small-scale farmers, workers, rural communities and the environment, according to a new report by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development.

The group, which is sponsored by several UN agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), as well as the World Bank, proposes putting measures in place that will boost production while also protecting and conserving precious resources such as water, forests and biodiversity.

“To argue, as we do, that continuing to focus on production alone will undermine our agricultural capital and leave us with an increasingly degraded and divided planet is to reiterate an old message,” said Professor Bob Watson, Director of IAASTD.

“But it is a message that has not always had resonance in some parts of the world. If those with power are now willing to hear it, then we may hope for more equitable policies that do take the interests of the poor into account,” he added.

The group also calls for addressing trade regimes and subsidy systems, since, as Professor Watson noted, “the poorest developing countries are net losers under most trade liberalization scenarios.”

The report comes just one day after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed the need for a “significant increase in long-term productivity in food grain production,” in addition to short-term measures to address critical needs and avert starvation in many parts of the world amid the global surge in food prices.

The crisis has already sparked unrest and tensions in many countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco and, most recently, in Haiti, where several people have died in riots.

Today the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed concern that the increasing food prices could force families to spend more on less food, and families might remove their children from school so that they can work and earn money.

Stopping school meals due to lack of funds is another concern, since the only semi-balanced meal many children eat are provided at schools, the agency noted.