UN reviews impact of biofuels on food sector

By Timothy Charles Holmseth | July 08, 2008
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization's High-Level Conference on World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy was held June 3-5 at the organization's headquarters in Rome. The summit brought together heads of state and government leaders from around the world to discuss the global food situation and climate change with an emphasis on how it's affecting agriculture.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer led the U.S. delegation to the summit. He was asked many questions regarding the nation's biofuels programs and the effect that biofuels polices are having on the global food market. "We at the [USDA] have plotted the long-term trends of price, yield, availability and consumption, and as we've looked at those long-term trends, we are anticipating this year an over 40 percent increase in food price inflation globally," he said. "Of that, we can identify 2 [percent] to 3 percent of that price increase that is driven by biofuels."

Schafer stated that the major factor in food price increases is higher energy costs, with rising demand contributing an almost equal percentage.

A declaration calling on the international community to increase assistance for developing countries was adopted. On the issue of biofuels, the declaration said, "It is essential to address the challenges and opportunities posed by biofuels in view of the world's food security, energy and sustainable development needs. We are convinced that in-depth studies are necessary to ensure that production and use of biofuels is sustainable in accordance with the three pillars of sustainable development, and take into account the need to achieve and maintain global food security. We call upon relevant intergovernmental organizations, including FAO, within their mandates and areas of expertise—with the involvement of national governments, partnerships, the private sector and civil society—to foster a coherent, effective and results-oriented international dialogue on biofuels in the context of food security and sustainable development needs."

Emergency activities began during the conference with $17 million being used to fight historically high food prices that threaten to leave the globe's 862 million people afflicted by hunger in an even worse situation. "The high prices are a burden for all of us," said FAO Assistant Director-General Jose Maria Sumpsi. "No one will be immune. Prices have been steadily rising for some time, but the sudden sharp jump this year is just one small symptom of an illness caused by years of neglect of world agriculture."

During sessions, delegates to the Rome Food Security Summit announced their increased commitment to the fight against hunger and for agricultural development. Although not a pledging conference, many donors announced firm financial contributions. Donors included (in U.S. dollars): United States, $5 billion (2008-'09); African Development Bank, $1 billion; France, $1.5 billion (over five years); Japan, $150 million; the International Fund for Agricultural Development, $200 million; Islamic Development Bank, $1.5 billion (over five years); Kuwait, $100 million; Netherlands, $75 million; New Zealand, $7.5 million; Spain, $773 million (over four years); United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund, $100 million; United Kingdom, $590 million; Venezuela, $100 million; World Bank, $1.2 billion.