PARIS (AFP) — UN food agency chief Jacques Diouf on Friday warned of civil war in some countries because of global food shortages and called for a revamp of the international food system.
The head of the Food and Agriculture Organization said on France 24 television that international leaders had failed to act on warnings from his agency leading to what he called a "predictable catastrophe".
Diouf said that "elected governments" must take "primary responsibility" before their people.
While demonstrations and riots over rising prices of staples such as rice and corn have the government in Haiti, Diouf said he sees "civil war" as a potential danger for countries in sub-Saharan Africa but also in Asia and Latin America.
Asked if he agreed with International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn's assessment that "those kind of questions sometimes end in war," Diouf said "with the qualification, civil war".
"Within countries, if, once again, all the necessary measures are not taken, there risks being clashes. We know there have already been deaths in some countries."
Diouf went on: "Unfortunately, we always wait until there is a catastrophe in this world before we react."
Unrest tied to the food inflation has already erupted in Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Madagascar, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Diouf bemoaned the competing politics of different international organisations, sometimes under the same UN umbrella, and said this had often made the implementation of FAO policies fall foul to those of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
"It's true that the World Bank and the (IMF) 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 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."
However, he denied that price rises of up to 120 percent in rice's case would prove beneficial to developing world farmers.
"There has to be investment in the management of water," he said. "In Africa, on 96 percent of land, production is dependent upon rainfall.
"When you factor in poor rural transport networks ... and inadequate storage facilities, (these countries) lose between 40 and 60 percent of production each year.
The FAO director-general welcomed an idea for global institutions to establish a food security fund, in the way the international community rallied to battle AIDS from the 1980s.
"I think that this proposition merits serious examination," Diouf said. "But how do we make sure that funds are in addition to resources mobilised by the World Bank, regional development banks, the EU and its bilateral aid programmes?
Diouf stopped short of calling for a moratorium on biofuel development -- which the UN's Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, recently called a "crime against humanity".
He called instead for a conference on food security in Rome on June 3-5, -- which will be attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva -- to trigger informed research.
Diouf also pulled back from developing world calls to lower agriculture subsidies and open up access to markets in the United States and Europe -- instead pressing for similar subsidies for farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
"There are two solutions: end subsidies everywhere, or give them to everyone. I prefer the latter," he said.
Diouf said the the international credit crunch and faults in global financial markets could not be blamed for food price rises.
"Obviously, there are always interactions, but the real problem of the food crisis is insufficient global supply due to climactic phenomenons, already low stocks and growing demand among emerging countries such as China and India.
"To that you can add the demand for biofuels which has diverted food towards energy.
"The growth in world population is 78.5 million people each year, and by 2050, the global population will have risen from six to nine billion," Diouf said.
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