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“I strongly commend to the world leaders gathered here to seriously consider the setting up of a Global Food Crisis Fund that will have contributions from all countries and from large business organizations that transcend geographical boundaries, and from financial institutions, arms manufacturers and philanthropists of the world, among others. The mechanics of such a fund will have to be worked out in keeping with the goal of assisting countries faced with serious dangers to food security and also in funding initiatives for greater food production,” said President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the UN Food Summit in Rome today (03).
He said that in addition to such a Global Food Crisis Fund, or working together with it, there should be Regional Food Security Funds drawing the financial and technology resources within a region to expand food production, improve storage and distribution and also come to the assistance of regional neighbours that may need help in the event of a food crisis as we see emerging today.
Commenting on the threat to food security from biofuels, President Rajapaksa emphasized that “in the prevailing competition between food and fuel, Sri Lanka is firm in the decision that no land that can be used for food will be used for bio-fuel whatever the commercial attraction may be. It is our belief that food for the people should have the highest priority, and not the running of gas-guzzling vehicles.”
Full text of the speech;
"I greatly value this opportunity to present Sri Lanka’s views on the crisis in global food supply that has taken center stage in world affairs. It is a crisis with the potential to have a crippling effect on the smaller, less developed countries with restrictions on the availability of arable land and financial resources. A crisis in food becomes all the more serious as it impacts most severely on the most vulnerable sections of a community, - namely, those living in poverty who constitute around one billion of the world's population. As a global community we need to act fast and take short term emergency measures to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable sections of our people do not go hungry.
It is regretted that warnings of this crisis, although seen, were largely ignored, until it assumed today’s magnitude. It is a crisis that has come from the growing demand for fuel, the failure to act in time on climate change, the ravages of terrorism, and problems of distribution.
Sri Lanka, like many other developing countries, is affected by all of these factors – namely – the total dependence on imported fuel; success in agriculture being dependent on changing weather patterns; and problems of storage and distribution. We are also faced with the fourth factor where food production is made difficult or even hazardous due to the threat of terrorism. Much arable land has been neglected due to land mines being laid by terrorists for over two decades.
While a combination of all these factors, no doubt, has resulted in the present crisis, there is also another set of factors, - socio - political in nature, - to which I would like to direct our attention. Let me explain, Mr. Chairman, by drawing on the experience of my own country, which is not very different from that of many other developing countries of the world.
Before the economy of our country was opened to the play of global market forces, the focus of social and economic development was the rural sector. The granaries of the nation which produced the food for our people, consisting of thousands of villages where 77% of the people live today, were then the main focus of economic development and concern. Rural incomes, rural well being, rural infrastructure, rural transport, rural health, rural education and other rural services constituted the main goals and objectives of social development. Development was focused on enhancing the productivity, well being and dignity of the peasant and small farmer who produced the food for our people.
With advent of the open economy, the focus of development activity shifted - in stages no doubt - from the village to the town. It shifted from that larger part of the country where rural people toiled to produce food for us all, to the urban centres of commerce and industry where goods and services are produced largely for export to high income countries.
The international economic pressures of that time coupled with some domestic political compulsions made us, as a country, shift our focus of development and concern, away from the rural economy and rural society, away from agriculture and food production to manufacture, commerce and services, away from a concern for the dignity and well being of those who produce the food for our people to a concern for those who came to the cities and towns to be engaged in non - farm employment. We opened our doors so wide to the global market forces, that while we reaped several of the benefits of globalization, we failed at the same time to protect several of our national interests, - in particular, those relating to our food security - from the negative impact of the global market. The earlier development goal of self reliance in food which we had almost reached, and in some years even exceeded, was severely weakened as my country gradually opened even the production and supply of our food requirements to the free play of global and domestic market forces.