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World leaders discuss food security

ActionAid members demonstrate Sunday in front of Rome’s Colosseum illuminated to mark world hunger on the eve of the World Food Summit.

TYPHOON Ketsana’s aftermath has shown Cambodia must redouble efforts to bolster food security, observers warned Monday, as senior officials met in Rome to tackle the issue of how to feed the world’s hungry.

Ketsana’s devastation shows just how vulnerable the country’s food production is, said Francis Perez, the country head for Oxfam in Cambodia.

Beyond the loss of life and property damage, however, the effects of flooding on the country’s key rice crop could have been devastating. It is estimated that up to 50,000 hectares of rice paddy was damaged, said Perez.

“If typhoons like this land in Cambodia … there is no way we can predict when or where or how big they will be,” Perez said. “So there is the urgent need to look at the implications of how to prepare.”

The Cambodian government’s record on bolstering its food supply is mixed, said Yang Saing Koma, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC).

Though at the national level, producers are on target to harvest 7 million tonnes of rice this year, at the community level “there are still a lot of people who cannot produce enough rice”, Yang Saing Koma said.

However, merely expanding the number of rice fields in the Kingdom may not be the answer. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warns that 80 percent of increased food production in developing countries will have to come from boosting crop yields – not from increasing precious arable land. That will demand significant government and donor investments in technology and knowledge, Yang Saing Koma said.

In the meantime, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong has joined delegates in Rome for the UN’s World Summit on Food Security – a three-day event ending tomorrow that some have dubbed a global “hunger summit”.

It comes as the number of undernourished people in the world has reached 1 billion, triggered by a financial crisis that sent 100 million people into hunger this year, according to the UN.

Still, critics have questioned what is likely to come out of the summit, with leaders from the world’s richest nations largely absent and a draft declaration posted on the summit Web site stripped of dollar signs.

“It says hunger will be halved by 2015 but fails to commit any new resources to achieve this,” Francisco Sarmento, food rights coordinator for the NGO ActionAid, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, the world cannot eat promises.”



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