Agricultural leaders seek solutions to world hunger

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- More than 400 agricultural leaders from around the world met here Tuesday to brainstorm ways to feed a booming world population. Although they debated several issues, most of them seemed to agree the problem won't be solved by simply growing more food.

"The problem in the world is not a lack of food. It's a lack of rent; it's a lack of wages," said Marcos Jank, president of the Brazilian Institute for International Trade Negotiations.

Jank joined colleagues from about 20 other countries to participate in the 2007 World Congress of the World Agricultural Forum. The biannual event brings together agricultural representatives from government agencies, corporations and academia.

While the topics were varied during the conference's first day, a common theme ran through much of the discussion -- solving the issue of chronic hunger can't be accomplished by the world's farmers alone.

Several members said governments will have to work harder to smooth the choppy waters of global trade.

"One of the untold truths about globalization is that social justice has become a practical necessity," said John Gummer, the former minister of agriculture for the United Kingdom. "If the poor feel they are bearing the cost [of global trade], quite frankly they won't do it."

Gummer and others at the conference were particularly critical of agricultural subsidies that rich nations like Britain and the United States dole out to their farmers. Although the subsidies might prop up domestic farmers, they also dump artificially cheap crops on the world market that makes it impossible for small farmers to compete, critics said.

"All we need is a good market to absorb our products," said Hilary Onek, minister of agriculture, animal industries and fisheries for Uganda.

The World Agricultural Forum was founded in 1997 to spur just such discussions, said Kathleen Moldthan, the group's executive vice president. Moldthan said the meeting is a rare chance for agricultural experts in rich and poor countries to have open discussions on contentious issues like subsidies.

The meeting will continue through Thursday evening, with discussions on topics ranging from crop-based fuels to preserving the world's water supply.

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