Euro, Asian leaders to talk food security

June 2, 2011 at 6:27 AM
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BUDAPEST, Hungary, June 2 (UPI) -- Emerging security threats such as food and water shortages call for urgent and coordinated action, European and Asian leaders said this week.

Members of the Asia-Europe Meeting said Tuesday that topic, as well as a range of new security challenges to the two continents, will be at the top of the agenda when foreign ministers from the Asian and European members of ASEM will gather next Monday and Tuesday in Budapest.

Hungary, which holds the rotating presidency of the 27-member European Union, said officials of the two continents will examine how they can cooperate on such issues as energy, food and water security and well as disaster-preparedness and management.

Also among the talking points will be cybercrime, piracy at sea, developments in the Middle East and efforts to reform the international financial system in the wake of the economic and financial crisis.

The group in May met in Thailand in hopes of providing a platform to bring food producers, exporters and importers together to consult and provide ideas for tackling food security challenges.

Thailand, which agreed to take the lead on food security issues at a meeting of ASEM heads of state and government last year in Beijing, said spiraling food prices are triggering fears of a repeat of the 2006-08 food crisis, when prices shot up 56 percent.

Another such rise could push an additional 64 million people into extreme poverty, Thai officials said.

The European Union's experience with its one-time, $1.4 billion EU Food Facility, a two-year program to help developing countries move toward long-term food security, was part of the discussion, ASEM said.

The talks come in the wake of an Asian Development Bank report warning water, food and climate change issues are coming together in an interrelated way to threaten gains made in the decades-long fight to alleviate global poverty.

The bank's analysis said prices for staple foods in Asia -- on which poor families spend 60 percent of their incomes -- are "likely to continue" to rise.

The increases, it said, are being caused by a combination of rising consumption, rising oil and fertilizer prices, the diversion of grain supplies to make biofuels and decreased crop yields due to climate change.

Calling the situation "a broken food system," the international anti-poverty group Oxfam said Tuesday its new analysis indicates spiraling food prices and repeating cycles of regional food crises will plunge millions more people into hunger unless strong measures are taken.

The report, entitled "Growing a Better Future," points to new crises in an age of climate change, including "flat-lining yields, a scramble for fertile land and water and rising food prices," and warning that the depletion of the Earth's natural resources will lead to a myriad of security problems.

Oxfam Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs said demand for food will rise by 70 percent by 2050 at a time when planet's capacity to create food is declining.

The average growth rate in agricultural yields has been reduced by nearly 50 percent since 1990 and is expected to decline again in the next decade, he said.

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