Page last updated at 01:16 GMT, Friday, 6 June 2008 02:16 UK

UN plan to increase food supplies

Farmers in India
The deal aims to help agriculture but aid agencies are not convinced

Global food production must be doubled by 2030 and farmers in poor countries better supported, a UN summit on the current food crisis has concluded.

Leaders from 181 countries made the commitment in Rome at the close of a three-day summit on food shortages.

They also agreed to bolster humanitarian interventions to help deal with shortages and soaring prices.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned up to $20bn (10.2bn) a year was needed to alleviate the crisis.

Government representatives and aid agencies welcomed the concluding statement as a signal that agriculture - particularly the support of small farmers in the developing world - was now firmly back on the agenda.

"For the first time agriculture has been put at the centre of the world stage. For years it has been on the periphery," South Africa's Agriculture Minister Lulu Xingwana told the BBC.

The summit participants stated that the reality of 862 million people worldwide continuing to be malnourished was wholly unacceptable given the resources available.

Target doubling of global food production by 2030
Focus on aid to small farmers in developing world
Give an extra $1.2bn (613m) in food aid to 75 million people in 60 nations
No agreement on possible need to limit biofuel production

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, said the adoption of a final declaration was "a sign that the international community is speaking with one voice".

But the summit, which was threatened to be overshadowed by the controversial presence of invited heads of state including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, was not without its critics, says the BBC's Stephanie Holmes in Rome.

Representatives from non-governmental organisations complained they were excluded from discussions.

ActionAid's food and hunger policy adviser, Magda Kropiwnicka, said the concluding statement lacked concrete proposals.

"There are no quantifiable financial commitments. Apart from the existing UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) funds, no money has been given to address the key problem of boosting capacity," she said.

But Oxfam's Alexander Woolcombe told the BBC News wesite that the very recognition of agriculture's role is a vital step.

"There needs to be more focus on agriculture, not less, and we finally seem to be getting recognition of that."

Biofuel debate

The FAO, which has underlined that the summit did not seek to secure financial pledges, has said it needs a tenfold increase in its budget - to some $30bn a year - to help farmers grow food for their communities and countries.

graphic of cost of food
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The issue of biofuels was divisive during the summit.

Some UN officials have said the rapid growth of the sector may have triggered as much as 30% of global price inflation, by diverting food crops to fuel use and tightening supply.

However, the US - the world's biggest producer of ethanol - insists it is responsible for just 3% of price rises.

Countries finally agreed, somewhat tepidly, that the industry provided both "challenges and opportunities" which needed to be investigated further.

During his address, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva passionately defended the potential of ethanol from sugarcane.

He highlighted the fact that a large portion of the country's transport is powered by sugarcane grown on just 1% of the country's arable land.

Analysts agree that sugarcane ethanol is a greener and more efficient way of producing fuel than the heavily subsidised US corn industry.

Mr De Schutter said the decision by both the US and EU to increase biofuels targets sent a "dangerous signal" to the market which would only fuel speculation on commodities.

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