A plan to boost food production in developing countries and provide urgent food aid will be discussed by the Development Committee Wednesday. The aim is to use surplus money from the EU’s agriculture budget to help the poor. Joining the debate are key figures from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme. Parliament's rapporteur is Irish MEP Gay Mitchell of the centre right EPP-ED bloc. Ahead of the debate we asked him to talk us through the issues.
Last year the world food index rose by 40%, putting intolerable strain on the world's poorest people. With billions dependent on staples such as rice and maize, prices rises have caused hunger, food riots and endangered gains made by aid programmes. Mr Mitchell, you support the proposal to use funds that were budgeted for the EU’s agricultural policies to help developing countries through the food crisis. Why is there a need for this money and how should it be used?
Mr Mitchell: First of all, this money is available in the EU budget for subsidies if prices for agricultural products are falling. But food prices haven’t fallen, so this money isn’t going to be spent and normally would go back to EU members.
There is a huge problem in the developing world; there have been food riots. Some countries that have been net exporters of rice are now importing, they had to drop tariffs to bring in those food products, which means that they are now losing money.
The food price index rose by more than 40% last year, we can all see that in our supermarkets - imagine what it means for people in the developing world who are already suffering from malnutrition! It has been estimated that to deal with the problem in the medium term it would probably require an extra €18 billion.
What the EU said is that we will try to find €1.8 billion over the next 2 or 3 years - this billion from unspent agricultural money should be matched by money from the Member States.
Some of it will be used to get food to people, because the stocks of grain for example have dwindled to the lowest in living memory. But most of it will be used for things like seeds and fertiliser and irrigation; to actually help these countries to develop and to grow their own food.
How can the EU ensure that this money will actually reach those in need?
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, the European Union and various international parties are already identifying the poorest countries with the greatest needs. We need to do this very quickly otherwise it's not going to reach those people. We have a harvest coming up and next March is an important deadline. If we vote this money through Parliament now, we would be able to commit to spend €750 million this year, in time for the harvest next year.
How will the use of the funds be monitored?
I say in my report that we want to have full transparency and accountability and independent evaluation of how this money is spent. We will insist on regular reports and while Parliament does not want to be involved in micro-management, we do want to be involved in a way where we are given the papers before decisions are made and there is accountability to the Parliament.
Europeans are affected by rising food prices as well… why not help poor families here?
First of all, there are people dying in developing countries - it is matter of life and death, literally. Secondly, we are really falling back on the Millennium Development goal to end hunger and malnutrition. We seem to have taken our eyes off malnutrition.
Thirdly, if we can get the developing world's to start growing more food, it will take pressure of the international situation that would in turn assist us. So there are selfless and selfish reasons for doing this.
Some would say that this is money budgeted for European agriculture and that it sets a dangerous precedent to shift it around for other purposes. How would you respond?
Well there is a precedent for the funding of Galileo. So people get concerned that we will keep getting proposals of that kind. The Budgets Committee believes that the correct way would be to first transfer the funds to the budget heading for development aid. Others say it should be given back to Member States. These are valid points. I will be meeting with government ministers this month to talk about the concerns.
However, the reality is that we need to act quickly. Food riots are not something that one can ignore. The EU has to show that we are capable of reacting to events in the world. We have the help these people, they are in a very difficult situation.
Gay Mitchell, Josep Borrell (Chair of the Development Committee) and Josette Sheeran of the World Food Programme will hold a press conference after the meeting at 1030-1100 CET. This will be shown on the EBS network at 1400 Wednesday.
- Further information :
- Food crisis - how do we feed the world now and in 2050?
- Millenium Develpment goals
- Programme of the special meeting
- Draft Mitchell report
- MEPs profile