ROME -- Nations should cooperate to boost agricultural production in the face of soaring food prices, the Chinese agriculture minister said here late Tuesday, calling for more assistance to developing countries and resisting the blame game.
"Efforts should be made to intensify international cooperation in food and agriculture at all levels," Sun Zhengcai said at the three-day world summit on food security, hosted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Outlining the priorities in global efforts to ensure food security amid spiraling prices, Sun said all nations should first accord greater priority to agricultural production.
"Major grain producing countries should redouble their efforts while developing countries should adopt effective policy measures to boost inputs in food production and agriculture," he said.
The summit, which began Tuesday, was called amid a dramatic global increase in food prices.
Agricultural commodity prices rose sharply over the past two years and continued to rise even more rapidly in the first three months of 2008. Prices for food grains such as rice, corn and wheat all touched record highs, sparking riots in many countries and hitting poor countries the hardest.
Sun urged the international community to take immediate and concerted action to increase food assistance and effectively respond to food emergencies.
"International organizations and developed countries should take more concrete action to provide developing countries with technical, financial and input support, and help them raise food and agricultural productivity, and ensure food security," he said.
Sun also called for enhanced global cooperation in response to climate change, which is threatening the long-term outlook for the food security of poorer nations.
In his opening address at the summit earlier Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged developed countries to open their markets to agricultural products from developing countries and eliminate subsidies to farmers, a thorny issue hindering the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Round negotiations.
Developing countries have long complained about heavily subsidized food from Europe and the United States being dumped in their markets, causing damage to domestic farmers.
Sun said efforts should be made to improve food trade and achieve a win-win solution through cooperation, and called for an early conclusion of the Doha Round of trade talks.
"We shall renew our efforts to further improve the environment and establish a fair and equitable order for international agricultural trade, and protect the initiatives of farmers for production in developing countries," he said.
Though the summit aimed to foster international consensus on how to tackle the soaring food prices, it was clouded by disputes, largely between developing and developed nations.
While developed countries blamed the increasing demand in emerging economies like China and India for the recent food price hike, developing countries said the growth in biofuel production, notably in the United States and the European Union, was responsible for the crisis.
However, such blame games would do little to advance the the global effort to tackle the food crisis, said Sun.
"It is neither true nor constructive to attribute the growing food demand worldwide to the growth of developing countries or to specific policies of some countries," he said.
A FAO study clearly shows that the recent food price hike has not originated from emerging economies, Sun pointed out.
China has actually been a net exporter of food grain 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.
"China has managed to feed 1.3 billion people, mostly relying on domestic production, which in itself is a major contribution to world food security," Sun emphasized.
The impact of producing grain-based biofuels on food security could not be overlooked, the minister said, calling for a coordinated approach to balance the needs of both food and energy security.
A FAO report said increased biofuel production in the 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," Sun said. "We shall take a coordinated approach to address issues of food and energy security."
He said the Chinese government will apply stringent controls over the production of biofuels using food grains, such as maize, and oilseeds while at the same time promote biofuel production using crop straw and stalks or by way of proper expansion of energy crops.
Rather than resorting to any finger pointing, Sun called for a concerted effort by the international community in the fight against soaring food prices.
"With concerted policies and efforts by all countries, we have the full capacity to jointly promote and safeguard world food security," he said.