International farm ministers rejected tight controls on commodity speculation in favour of more open information on developments in the food chain that could affect both farmers and consumers, says Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.
The first meeting of G20 farm ministers signed an action plan in Paris that stresses more trade and innovation, including biotechnology, to help increase food production, he said in a conference call with reporters June 24. The plan also calls for research to improve varieties and nutrition.
“Our farmers will be as well served as any in the world by the plan,” Ritz said. “It will be a tremendous achievement for them.”
It will mean more export opportunities for producers and meets Canada’s goals of science-based trade rules and lower trade barriers.
In addition to the G20 session, Ritz travelled to Rome for a meeting of the FAO and a ministerial meeting of the Global Research Alliance. Canada will host the 2012 meeting of the alliance, which is working on projects to improve wheat varieties and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. He also lobbied countries to attend the last summer meeting of the Cairns Group in Saskatoon.
Oxfam Canada said the farm ministers failed to address the causes of rising food prices or take any measures that would help consumers.
Mark Fried, policy co-ordinator for Oxfam, said in a statement, “Fixing the problem of rising food prices requires major surgery and the G20 produced little more than a band-aid… The ministers sidestepped two key solutions – fixing flawed biofuels policies which divert food into fuel, and helping poor countries build up food stocks to cope with extremes in food price volatility.”
The World Bank estimates that 44 million people fell below the poverty line in the second half of 2010 due to high and volatile food prices, Fried said. Prices for staples such as corn could more than double in the next 20 years, partly because of climate change.
Ritz said the best way to control food prices is to encourage farmers to produce more food. Help will be provided to developing countries to create some rice storage facilities, he said.
Using crops such as corn and canola to make biofuels isn’t causing anyone to go hungry, he added. Much of the grain used to make fuels can be fed to livestock and increasingly biofuels will be made from biomass such as straw, crop and wood waste and pond scum.
He also said Canada was spending $5 million on wheat genome research, which will lead to higher yielding varieties that can better withstand climate change.
Ritz used the meetings to talk his counterparts from India and Japan about long term trade deals and increased opportunities for Canadian products. He also pushed for increased access to Europe for Canadian organic foods.
“Promoting open trade and innovation in international fora, such as the G20, is essential to improving Canadian farmers’ profitability, addressing global food security and sustaining our environment,” Ritz said.
The research alliance has allocated $16 million to spend on agricultural greenhouse gases
Program. “Canadian farmers know better than anyone that a sustainable environment is critical to their continued success,” Ritz said. “Through joint research and innovation, the alliance will help farmers in Canada and around the world learn how to produce more food, more efficiently.”
“Ourfarmerswillbeas wellservedasanyin theworldbytheplan, itwillbeatremendous achievementforthem.”
– GERRY RITZ, AGRICULTURE MINISTER