March 9, 2009 / 5:47 PM / 11 years ago

Lower prices aggravate food crisis - U.N. official

By Laura MacInnis

GENEVA, March 9 (Reuters) - Commodity price declines are hampering farming investments and this could worsen the world food crisis, a senior United Nations official said on Monday.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that although the market prices of wheat, corn and rice are now much lower than their 2008 peaks, hundreds of millions of people were at risk from food shortages and shocks.

"Perversely, falling food prices are currently discouraging investment in agriculture. This is turn hampers much needed efforts to increase food production," Pillay told a discussion about the human rights implications of food shortages.

The former South African judge said that basic foods remain unaffordable by the world’s poorest people, whose needs should not be ignored by the international community.

"Efforts to mitigate hunger and promote and protect the right to food have not been translated into concrete action," she said. "Clearly the crisis is not over yet."

Olivier de Schutter, the U.N. special envoy on the right to food, told the U.N. Human Rights Council that commodity markets will remain volatile in the years ahead and governments needed to do all in their power to ensure people had enough to eat.


"Future shocks shall occur, of the same magnitude. We must be better prepared to face them," he said, citing a need for smarter food aid and fairer rules for agricultural trade.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a Rome-based U.N. agency, has said more than 30 countries are still in the midst of food crisis despite the fall in cereal prices alongside the onset of global economic turmoil in the second half of 2008.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been among the most vocal campaigners for more investments to boost Africa’s agricultural productivity to avert food shortages and boost depressed economic output.

While many diplomats welcomed the Human Rights Council’s focus on food access as a human rights concern, some non-governmental groups said there were other weighty issues that needed more attention from the 47 member-state forum.

Amnesty International’s Peter Splinter said that governments receiving food assistance must be held responsible for allowing the supplies to reach those in need, citing Sudan’s recent expulsion of humanitarian aid groups as an example.

"The Council will only be credible in addressing the right to food if it also addresses situations where governments deliberately violate the right to food as a means of political coercion," he told the session at the U.N. offices in Geneva.

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