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May 08, 2008

Prominent economist calls for more funds for African farmers

The economist Jeffrey Sachs has called on the EU to provide African farmers with funds to help them survive the current food crisis and remain out of its grip in the long term.

Sachs, who is acting as a special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told the European Parliament's development committee on 5 May that more money needs to be made available to farmers in the world's poor regions so that they can invest in producing more food themselves.

Sachs described the sudden jump in food prices as “startling and life-threatening” for the world's poorest, who, he said, typically spend 70-80% of their household budget on food. Emergency aid is therefore essential, he said.

However, in the longer term -- from six months to five years -- funding should be unlocked for small peasant farmers in Africa and other regions so that they can buy better fertilisers, better seeds and set-up small scale irrigation systems, Sachs said.

Such measures would cost just one-tenth of the cost of food aid programmes and could increase farm output in sub-Saharan Africa from the current one tonne of wheat per hectare to two to three tonnes. “I urge the EU to follow this kind of logic. If we simply stay at emergency food aid we will not solve the problem,” he said.

Sachs, who has advised numerous governments in the developing world, also urged governments around the world to cut back significantly on their biofuel production programmes. His comments were directed more at the US, where one-third of this year's maize crop will go to produce fuel, rather than at the EU, where only 2% of crops are turned into biofuel. However, he said the EU should “reconsider” its policy to increase biofuel production given current conditions on the market.

He blamed the current food crisis, which the UN's World Food Programme says has plunged an extra 100 million people into poverty this year, on a surge in world demand set against a stagnant world food supply, caused by climate shocks, poor productivity levels in some developing countries, the switch to biofuels in the US, and low inventory stocks in developed countries.

European Voice

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