China: Blame game pointless in food crisis

Updated: 2008-06-04 22:34

ROME - A battle of blame, either on emerging economies or biofuel policy of some developed countries, is pointless in the global effort to tackle soaring food prices, China's agriculture minister said here late Tuesday.

"It is neither true nor constructive attributing the growing food demand worldwide to the growth of developing countries or to specific policies of some countries," Agriculture Minister Sun Zhengcai told a world summit on food security hosted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The three-day summit, which kicked off Tuesday, was called at a time when the world is experiencing a dramatic increase in food prices.

Though it was aimed at winning donor pledges for urgent aid as short-term solutions and also generating longer term strategies to safeguard food production, the high-level conference was clouded by quarrels largely between developing and developed nations.

While the developed countries blamed increasing demand in emerging economies like China and India for the recent food price hike, the developing countries said the growth of biofuel production, notably in the United States and the European Union, should be responsible.

Sun said a FAO study clearly showed that the recent food price hike has not originated from emerging economies.

"China and India have usually been cited as the main contributors to this sudden change because of the size of their populations and the high rates of economic growth they have achieved. However, since 1980, the imports of cereals in these two countries have been trending down," the report said.

Actually, China has been a net exporter of cereals since the late 1990s, with one exception in the 2004-2005 season. Similarly, India has been a net importer of these commodities only once, in the 2006-2007 season, since the beginning of the 21st century.

Sun noted the impact of producing grain-based biofuels on food security could not be overlooked, calling for a coordinated approach to balance the needs of food security and energy security.

A FAO report said the growth of biofuel production in face of record-high oil prices is a factor contributing to higher food prices.

"The basic function of agriculture is to satisfy food demand for human survival and development," he said, "We shall take a coordinated approach to address issues of food security and energy security."

Sun said the Chinese government would put stringent control over the production of biofuels using feedstock such as maize and oilseeds while at the same time promoting biofuel production using crop straws and stalks or by way of proper expansion of energy crops.

He called for a concerted effort by the international community in the fight against soaring food prices.

"Upon concerted policies and efforts by all countries, we have the full capacity to jointly promote and safeguard world food security," Sun said.

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