G-20 ministers discuss food security

Group of 20 top nations agriculture ministers wait before the speech of France's president Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris.

Kai Ryssdal: The French agriculture minister made some news today. He said the world could face a century of hunger -- unless there's better regulation of food supplies. There's a big meeting of farm and food officials in Paris this week, the first of its kind. There are broad agreement that food prices are going up too fast and too many people in the world don't have enough food. There's not much consensus on what the solution is. From the European Desk in London Stephen Beard reports.


Stephen Beard: Global food prices shot up by more than 15 percent in the last quarter of last year. The French blame excessive speculation and want curbs on it.

Anne Pettifer of the Prime Economics consultancy says the French have got a point.

Anne Pettifer: The money just keeps pouring in on the grounds that this commodity has to keep rising into the future and "we will make money in 10 years time," and it's that volume of money going into the commodity markets which causes the problem.

But the Brits -- with one of the world's biggest financial centers -- will never go along with a crackdown on speculation.

U.K. farm minister Caroline Spellman stands up for the commodity trader.

Caroline Spellman: Farmers around the world use hedging to even out the high and low prices of their crops. And that is one way in which you're able to get a more stable price of food.

And needless to say, commodity market analysts agree that speculation is not the main factor behind sharply rising farm prices.

Erin Fitzpatrick of Rabobank in London blames more fundamental forces.

Erin Fitzpatrick: We've had weather disruptions in multiple countries around the world, which are major grain and oil seed producers and exporters. We've also seen a strong rebound in demand.

There is widespread agreement at the G-20 summit that countries should be more open about their own food supplies. But China and India are likely to balk at sharing more farm data. And the U.S. won't be happy about this call from Oxfam's Duncan Green.

Duncan Green: They have to do something about biofuels where the rich countries' policies are taking food away from people and putting it into gas tanks.

Forty percent of U.S. corn is turned into ethanol. Duncan Green doubts that this first G-20 farm ministers summit will make any difference to food prices. But it's a start -- and he says with an estimated one billion people around the world going to bed hungry tonight, the cost and supply of food will become an ever more pressing issue.

In London, I'm Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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