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Famine: a modern-day scandal

Publié le July 22, 2011
Article by Bruno Le Maire, Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries, Rural Affairs and Spatial Planning. Published in "Le Monde" newspaper.
Paris, July 21, 2011

A terrible famine is affecting the Horn of Africa. It’s causing the death of thousands of people. Families are being forced to migrate. It’s depriving millions of women and children of the most basic necessities. For years now, we’ve seen recurring crises. We must, however, overcome indifference and fight resignation. Because hunger is not a thing of the past, and won’t disappear overnight. It’s a daily reality for millions of people throughout the world. It’s the main cause of human misery and one of the major causes of political instability. Famine is a modern-day scandal. It requires immediate and resolute action by the international community. It calls for the implementation of an agricultural development strategy in the poorest countries in the world, in accordance with the guidelines established in the G20 Action Plan.

For now, we want to offer our support to the NGOs and the World Food Program that are doing an incredible job on the ground. Without these committed men and women, we would not have been able to gauge the scale of the tragedy. We owe them our gratitude. Through Alain Juppé and Henri de Raincourt, under French presidency of the G20, we called for an emergency meeting of the FAO. Its Director General, Jacques Diouf, heeded our appeal. We want to use this opportunity to mobilize as much assistance as possible. I will therefore go to Rome on July 25 to mobilize, together with my counterparts, the necessary support. On Saturday and Sunday, I will visit Kenya with the Executive Director of the WFP, Josette Sheeran, and the European Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, to assess the short and medium-term needs of the populations affected.

But in addition to this crisis situation, we’re facing a global challenge: feeding the planet. We know that periods of drought are likely to become more common in the future. We know that climate change has already had a dramatic impact on global agricultural production capacities. All evaluations lead to the same conclusion: we must increase global agricultural production by 70% by 2050 in order to respond to the increase in global food demand. At the same time, we have to be mindful of soil degradation. We have to prevent the destruction of agricultural land. We mustn’t make the same mistake of overusing plant protection products and fertilizers. Production must be increased and improved – that’s the key challenge that the international community faces. With one objective: food security for everyone.

President Sarkozy wanted agriculture to be at the heart of the G20 priorities. The Action Plan adopted by the G20 Agriculture Ministers in Paris on June 23 includes concrete measures to increase global agricultural production, guarantee food self-sufficiency in the poorest countries, strengthen international cooperation in order to respond to the crises, and prevent commodity speculation. For the first time, we’re breaking with the reasoning based on which countries of the North always produced more for the countries of the South without considering the need for the latter to become self-sufficient.

The famine in the Horn of Africa demands that we urgently implement the measures included in this plan. It also demands that we further strengthen the proposed measures and that we test their effectiveness. The establishment of pre-positioned emergency stocks is one of the responses proposed in the G20 Action Plan; let’s put this necessary project swiftly into operation.

Today, we’re mobilizing our efforts to ensure food security in Africa. But tomorrow, other continents could be affected by famine. We urge everyone to demonstrate a sense of responsibility. Now is the time for action. A little more solidarity to combat hunger; a slightly less blinkered attitude. A little more cooperation; a bit less selfishness. That’s the path that France is proposing.

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