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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Food summit 'waste of time'
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (l) with FAO director Jacques Diouf and an unidentified Chinese delegate
Berlusconi is a big football fan
The World Food Summit in Rome has ended without achieving anything, delegates have said.

Officials from poor countries say it was largely a waste of time anyway, as the governments of wealthy countries did not take it seriously.


There are mission representatives here who... go on mad shopping sprees for clothes and designer goods and eat in the best restaurants, while back home so many children are going hungry

Piergiorgio Stiffoni
Italian lawmaker
Only the Italian and Spanish leaders were there, despite the stated goal of halving world hunger by 2015.

And there are reports that the summit ended early so that Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi could watch his country's crucial World Cup game with Mexico.

The French news agency, AFP, reports that the close was brought forward by two hours.

Busy man

A spokesman for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, Nick Parsons, told BBC News Online that no firm time had been fixed for the final news conference before 0900 local time was chosen.

Launch new window : Southern Africa famine
In pictures: Southern Africa famine

But then it was fixed for 0900 GMT - two and a half hours before the Italy kick-off in Japan.

"We had to wait and see what time fitted with Prime Minister Berlusconi's schedule," he said.

Global hunger
1996: 840 million hungry people
2002: 815 million hungry people
2015 target: 400 million hungry people

Mr Berlusconi owns AC Milan - one of Italy's biggest football clubs.

An Italian law-maker added to the criticism by saying that it was just an excuse for delegates and their families to go shopping.

Activists were deeply unhappy with the summit - and the reported early end to allow football fan Silvio Berlusconi watch the World Cup.

"If the reports are true, it shows the low priority attached to the food summit," Miges Baumann from Greenpeace told BBC News Online.

"But at least he [Berlusconi] is actually here, unlike many others," he said.

Not important

South Africa President Thabo Mbeki was equally scathing.

"The entire leadership of western Europe and North America was here in Rome two weeks ago to discuss Nato. They all came without exception, but they don't come now.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe travelled to Rome despite an EU ban
"I suppose that's because they don't think the problem of 800 million people going hungry in the world is important," he said.

Up to 15 million people in southern Africa are currently at risk of starvation following the failure of their crops.

Shopping spree

A deputy from Italy's Northern League condemned the summit but for entirely different reasons.

"There are mission representatives here who, in the light of day and without the slightest respect for their citizens, go on mad shopping sprees for clothes and designer goods and eat in the best restaurants while back home so many children are going hungry," said Piergiorgio Stiffoni.


If women all over the world had the same opportunities as men, then we could get rid of world hunger

Margareta Winberg
Swedish minister
The conservative Italian daily Libero also denounced the attitude of some of those attending the meeting.

"Piano bars in the smart hotels, champagne and night clubs - la dolce vita for delegates in the fight against hunger in Rome," the paper said.

But a UN official told Reuters news agency it was a storm in a teacup.

"Tourists go shopping when they come to Rome so I don't see why delegates can't do the same," said the official, who declined to be named.

Land for women

Aside from all the sniping, Sweden's agriculture minister told the meeting that a key way to improve food production would be to give more land to women.

"If women all over the world had the same opportunities as men, then we could get rid of world hunger," Margareta Winberg said.

"Women are not only effective farmers, they are more productive farmers than men, and if you give small credits to women, they pay back," she said.

In Africa, women do the vast majority of agricultural work but own less than a fifth of the land.


Key stories

Horn of Africa

Southern Africa

West Africa

Ways to help

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See also:

11 Jun 02 | Europe
07 Jun 02 | Africa
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