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May 08, 2008

Senegalese president Wade calls for scrapping of FAO

Senegal's outspoken President Abdoulaye Wade on May 5 called for the scrapping of the UN food agency, saying its inefficiency had largely led to soaring food prices worldwide.

Wade said the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), headed by his compatriot Jacques Diouf, was a "waste of money largely spent on doing very little for effective operations on the ground.

"Despite the qualities of its secretary general ... it is the institution of the FAO that is being put into question," he said in an address aired on radio and television. "The current situation is largely its failure and the cries of alarm will not help at all."

Wade said he had long campaigned for the Rome-based body to be relocated in the world's poorest continent Africa, wracked by food shortages and hunger.

"This time, I'm going further, we must scrap it," he said, referring to FAO, whose work he said was being "duplicated by others, apparently more efficiently."

The Senegalese leader said several initiatives had been launched after the world suddenly woke up to the food crisis but even these cast the FAO in a poor light.

The FAO sought 1.7 million dollars (1.1 million euros) for an "emergency programme to distribute seeds and fertiliser to increase farm output," he said while another UN agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), promised to put up "200 million dollars for poor farmers in the worst-hit countries," he said.

He said the yawning gap between these two proposals "shows the progressive marginalisation" of the FAO. Wade said the IFAD, which combats rural hunger and poverty in developing countries through low-interest loans and direct assistance, "could become the new world agricultural assistance fund with its headquarters in Africa."

FAO chief Diouf had recently called for a revamp of the UN system and bemoaned the competing politics of different international organisations for spiking the implementation of FAO policies.

"It's true that the World Bank and the (International Monetary Fund) have, over the past two decades, policies which have dismantled systems put in place to protect farmers in Third World countries, notably in Africa," he had said. "(But) I should say that the World Bank has done a mea culpa, because it has recognised its policies in Africa were not good and that it has to change them."

Global food prices have nearly doubled in three years, according to the World Bank, sparking riots last month in Egypt and Haiti, protests in other countries and restrictions on food exports from Brazil, Vietnam, India and Egypt.

Rising use of biofuels, trade restrictions, increased demand from Asia to serve changing diets, poor harvests and increasing transport costs have all been blamed for the price rise.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick has said two billion people across the globe are struggling with high food prices, and 100 million people in poor countries may be pushed deeper into poverty by the crisis.


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