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Annan calls for action to match promises on hunger

Kofi Annan urged rich countries to scrap farm subsidies

(Keystone)

The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, has opened the World Food Summit in Rome with a call for urgent action to combat hunger.

Annan opened the summit by urging greater access for the world's farmers to land, credit, markets and technology to improve crop yields.

The meeting, organised by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is due to take stock of progress made towards ending hunger in the past five years and to look at ways of accelerating the process. But Swiss officials say it's already clear that not enough has been achieved.

At the 1996 summit international representatives set a goal of halving the number of hungry men, women and children from 800 million to 400 million by 2015. However, the number of people suffering from hunger has remained at 800 million.

"There is no shortage of food on the planet," Annan said in his opening address. "But while some countries produce more than they need to feed their people, others do not, and many of these cannot afford to import more to make up the gap.

"This summit must give renewed hope to those 800 million people by agreeing on concrete action."

In response to a question, he said that rich nations should dispense with agricultural subsidies: "A developing country... cannot export and compete on world markets because its richer partners are heavily subsidised".

One in seven hungry

With almost one in seven people around the world suffering from hunger, the FAO says corrective action must be taken now if the goal is to be met.

Jacques Chavaz, the deputy director of the Swiss federal office for agriculture, told swissinfo that while it wasn't true that the world was losing the war against hunger, greater efforts did need to be made.

"The political will should be stronger, that's probably the first goal," Chavaz said.

Code of conduct

According to the FAO, the problem is not a lack of food, but the fact that the food fails to reach the people who need it. Chavaz said Switzerland believed the way to tackle this problem was "with a mix of direct development aid... and fair trade conditions."

He said the Swiss delegation, headed by economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, was agreed on the need for a code of conduct "to provide effective protection to the peoples most threatened" by hunger.

He said Switzerland's representatives would be insisting on the need for sustainable development and fair trade, including the lifting of restrictions on imports from the poorest countries.

"Sustainable development and developing special activities for sustainable agriculture in mountain areas ... this is probably our number one focus as the present time," Chavez told swissinfo. "But we will be part as well of joint efforts... promoting the right to food as governments' instrument to improve the situation in the world."

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