06 June 2008

Biofuel row :"stalls UN food text"

BBC News - 5 June 2008
Original URL

A child sells potatoes at the Abobo market in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (4 June 08)

The food crisis is said to have pushed 100 million people into hunger

Latin American countries are refusing to sign a declaration on dealing with the world food crisis, delegates at a UN food summit have told the BBC.

Senior European officials say some of those countries will not sign a final statement "demonising" biofuels.

But Brazilian officials denied that biofuels were the sticking point, instead blaming "commercial and agricultural points".

Brazil has fiercely defended its right to grow sugarcane for ethanol.

A final declaration had been set to be released at 1500 (1300 GMT) Thursday.

"The whole Latin American group is making it very complicated. Brazil is perhaps behind the whole thing. They are so worried that biofuels will be demonised that they would prefer that no deal was reached rather than one that was ambiguous on biofuels," the official - who asked to remain anonymous - told the BBC News website.

"All the regions without exception have accepted the language of the draft declaration. All countries and regions are unhappy with some elements, the EU is unhappy with the mentions of trade, for example, but they have compromised. But the Latin Americans are not budging," the official added.

New aid

The UN food summit in Rome, called in response to soaring prices around the world, is to issue a declaration setting out its proposals.

The declaration aims to express an international commitment and a shared path to responding to the crisis which has led to political unrest in 30 countries.

"The chairman of the regional groups is meeting with the head of the UN taskforce now to see if they can reach a deal, but Brazil is fiercely resisting any decision on biofuels," the delegate added.

But Brazilian diplomat Manuel Fernandes Bertone told the BBC there was already consensus on biofuels.

The summit wants urgent action to help farmers plant more crops this year, but there are disagreements over the role of biofuels in driving up food costs.

The World Food Programme has also said it will try to source most of its food from developing countries.

The conference was not about raising money, but securing political momentum for short-term food aid, medium-term help for farmers and a longer-term focus on better technology, says BBC International Development Correspondent David Loyn in Rome.

Some £3bn (£1.5bn; £2bn euros) of new aid was pledged during the summit to help ease the food crisis.

And on Wednesday, the World Food Programme announced an extra $1.2bn in assistance for 60 of the hardest hit nations.

But the big sums needed will not be announced until later in the year, our correspondent says.

Jacques Diouf, the head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which is hosting the summit, said investment in seeds was essential in the next few weeks to take the maximum opportunity from this year's harvest.

Biofuels controversy

The most contentious issue remains the question as to whether biofuels are a silver bullet helping climate change and providing cheap energy or rather an expensive solution gobbling up farm land and threatening forests, our correspondent adds.

The draft declaration says "it is essential to address the challenges and opportunities posed by biofuels, in view of the world's food security, energy and sustainable development needs".

It goes on to recommend that in-depth studies are conducted to "ensure that production and use of biofuels is sustainable in accordance with the three pillars of sustainable development and take into account the need to achieve and maintain global food security".

The US, Brazil, many European countries and India are already committed to biofuel technology. But poorer countries are opposed to them for pushing up food prices.

The declaration also says it is "unacceptable that 854 million people are still undernourished in the world today".

Food costs have reached a 30-year high, causing riots in several countries.

The crisis is believed to have pushed 100 million people into hunger worldwide.



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