Washington: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice considers the apparent improvement in the diets of peoples in China and India and the resultant export caps among the reasons for the skyrocketing prices of grain worldwide.
She also believes a successful Doha round of world trade talks, “which would help to bring down agricultural subsidies by developed countries and give farmers, particularly subsistence farmers, greater access to market,” would help solve the problem.
The US, which has historically been in the lead as a donor of food aid is “very concerned about the status of the food situation in the world,” she said at the Peace Corps 2008 Worldwide Country Director Conference here Monday.
“But the exchange rate, plus just the inability to get food to market, or food to people has made it very difficult,” she said listing four causes for what the World Food Programme Director, Josette Sheeran has described as “a silent tsunami.”
These included conflicts in certain areas, an “incredible” rise in fuel prices hiking cost of everything from fertiliser to transportation, use of biofuels in food crop areas and an apparent decline in production in some places leading to export caps.
“Now, some of that is not so much declining production as apparently improvement in the diets of people, for instance, in China and India, and then pressures to keep food inside the country,” Rice said.
In addition “while biofuels continue to be an extremely important piece of the alternative energy picture, obviously, we want to make sure that it’s not having an adverse effect,” she said. “We think that it’s not a large part of the problem, but it may, in fact, be a part of the problem, the ethanol debate.”
White House press secretary Dana Perino acknowledged: “There are many different factors contributing to the food crises around the world. One of them would be biofuels.”
“While it might have some impact, it’s not a huge impact,” she said. “And it is something that we are all going to have to take into consideration as we move to economies that can run on alternative or renewable fuels.”
“But the bigger problem is the cost of energy, and especially the cost of transporting energy from one place to the other. Another one is weather,” Perino said, noting: “There has been terrible droughts, especially in Australia, which is the biggest exporter of wheat. And you also have problems with demand, global demand.”
“In some ways that can be looked at positively, in that incomes around the world have increased such that people can afford to buy more food and actually eat more meat and more protein, which is not a bad thing for people as they’re trying to improve their standards of living and lift themselves up out of poverty,” she said without naming any country.
“But there is a balance to be struck,” Perino said. “One of the things that we did two weeks ago was to announce $200 million in addition for food aid around the world. We are considering what other aspects need to be taken care of.”
Source: Indo-Asian News Service