Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Fuel and Food Crisis Update: Rome Summit Seeks 'Green Revolution' for Africa; Fisherman Confront Police at EU; India Raises Fuel Prices

Food summit seeks "green revolution" for Africa

Wed Jun 4, 2008 8:35am EDT
By Stephen Brown and Robin Pomeroy

ROME (Reuters) - A U.N. summit on the global food crisis asked rich nations on Wednesday to help "revolutionize" farming in Africa and the developing world to produce more food for nearly 1 billion people facing hunger.

"The global food crisis is a wake-up call for Africa to launch itself into a 'green revolution' which has been over-delayed," Nigerian Agriculture Minister Sayyadi Abba Ruma said on the second day of the three-day summit.

"Every second, a child dies of hunger," the minister said. "The time to act is now. Enough rhetoric and more action."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received a petition signed by more than 300,000 people saying there was no time to lose. A draft declaration from 151 countries taking part said: "We commit to eliminating hunger and to securing food for all."

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization called the summit after soaring commodity prices threatened to add 100 million more people to the 850 million already going hungry and caused food riots that threaten government stability in some countries.

The cost of major food commodities has doubled over the last couple of years, with rice, corn and wheat at record highs. The OECD sees prices retreating from their peaks but still up to 50 percent higher in the coming decade.

Ban said the summit was already a success. "There is a clear sense of resolve, shared responsibility and political commitment among member states to making the right policy choices and investing in agriculture in the years to come.

"Hunger degrades everything we have been fighting for in recent years and decades," he told reporters. "We are duty-bound to act to act now and to act as one."

Ban's predecessor at the head of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, was in Rome to sign an agreement with U.N. food agencies for a new drive to increase farm production in Africa.


"We hope to spur a green revolution in Africa which respects biodiversity and the continent's distinct regions," said Annan, who chairs the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) which is coordinating the effort.

The scheme will provide technical support to improve soil and water management, access to seeds and fertilizers, and improve infrastructure in "breadbasket" areas of Africa which have relatively good conditions for farming.

The Nigerian minister said his country had "the potential to become the food basket of Africa". But its farms were 90 percent dependant on rainfall, making them vulnerable to climate change, and its 14 million smallholders used "rudimentary" techniques.

The Rome summit will set the tone on food aid and subsidies for the Group of Eight summit in Japan in July and what is hoped to be the concluding stages of the stalled Doha talks under the World Trade Organization aimed at reducing trade distortions.

As leaders made lofty speeches, many blaming trade barriers and biofuels for driving up prices, delegations worked on a summit declaration for release on Thursday.

A draft of the declaration promised to "stimulate food production and to increase investment in agriculture, to address obstacles to food access and to use the planet's resources sustainability for present and future generations".

The United States found itself on the defensive regarding biofuels, along with Brazil which is the world's largest producer of sugar-cane ethanol, and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer bristled at the criticism.

"I don't think the United States gets enough credit at all for providing over one half of all the food aid," he said.

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, who told the summit on Tuesday that former colonial power Britain was to blame for many of his country's problems, came under fire from a human rights group which said he was using food as a weapon ahead of a June 27 presidential run-off election.

Human Rights Watch said the Harare government was deliberately stopping food aid being provided to supporters of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

"President Mugabe's government has a long history of using food to control the election outcome," it said.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Rome and Paul Simao in Johannesburg; Editing by Robert Woodward)

Fishermen clash with police at EU

Police have clashed with hundreds of fisherman protesting against the high cost of fuel outside the headquarters of the European Union in Brussels.

Several windows in EU buildings were broken and at least one car was overturned during the demonstration.

Riot police responded by firing water cannon and launching baton charges.

The fishermen have said they will go out of business unless the EU allows national governments to give them more financial aid and subsidise their fuel.

French fishermen have been on strike for several weeks over the price of diesel, which has risen by 240% in the past five years.

In recent days they have been joined by members of fleets from the UK, Spain, Portugal and Italy, who have blockaded ports across Europe, and truck drivers.


With foghorns, flags and flares, hundreds of mainly French and Italian fishermen stopped traffic on the main road in the European district of the Belgian capital.

After several hours of stand-off, the protest turned violent. A car was overturned, bins were set on fire and windows were smashed by flares.

Riot police lined up behind a barbed-wire barricade in front of the European Commission responded by attempting to disperse the crowd with water cannons and baton charges.

Earlier, a delegation of fishermen met senior EU officials briefly outside the Commission's headquarters to explain their grievances and demand emergency aid from both the EU and their countries' governments.

However, the EU officials stressed that any fuel subsidies would be illegal under European law and unsustainable in the long term.

"There is a problem of high costs at the time when the sector is also in a situation where there is overcapacity and where there is a need for restructuring," said Patrick Tabone, the chief political adviser of the EU fisheries commissioner.

"What we need to ensure is that the responses we come up with are a real help to the sector, not only in the short term, but in the long term."

The BBC's Dominic Hughes in Brussels says that this is not a message the angry fishermen will want to hear.

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Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/06/04 13:09:00 GMT

India forced to raise fuel prices

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Delhi

India has raised fuel prices by 10%, the second such increase this year, because of the rising cost of oil.

India imports nearly 75% of its crude oil requirements and controls the price of domestic fuel products to help contain inflation and protect the poor.

The latest increase is being heavily criticised by business leaders who say it will fuel inflation.

Communist parties, which support the government, are also opposed and plan nationwide protests over the move.

Many Indians are already lining up at petrol stations to fill up their vehicles ahead of the hike which comes into effect after midnight.


An increase in domestic fuel prices was long expected in India because of the record rise in global oil prices.

But this being an election year, the matter was debated for 10 days before the cabinet announced a 10% increase in retail fuel prices.

While petrol prices have been increased by five rupees (13 cents) a litre, diesel prices have been raised by three rupees (eight cents).

And a cylinder of cooking gas will now cost 50 rupees ($1.25) more than before. The price of kerosene remains unchanged.

India's Petroleum Minister, Murli Deora, said the move was necessary because state-owned oil companies were losing tens of millions of dollars.

"We were left with no option," he said.

"Due to the relentless increase in international oil prices, it has now become necessary for the consumer... to shoulder a small part of the increased burden, through a marginal hike in prices."

To offset their losses, the government has also agreed to cut the import duty on crude oil.

But already there has been strong reaction to the move.

Business leaders say it will increase inflation, which is already at a four-year high.

And India's Communist parties, which prop up the government, say they will hold nationwide protests from Thursday.

"The increase in the price of diesel, in particular, will have a cascading effect on all-round prices as the transportation costs will rise sharply," a statement said.

That is not good news for a government which faces a string of key state elections this year in the run-up to general elections, due in 2009.

How will this price rise affect you? Will your business suffer as a result? Send your comments using the post form below, or text 44 7624 800 100.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/06/04 11:03:17 GMT

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