World Agricultural Forum

Global Agricultural Issues Take Center Stage at World Agricultural Forum's 2003 World Congress

    ST. LOUIS, MO (ots) - The World Agricultural Forum (WAF), a non-profit organization that provides the only neutral and inclusive forum for global dialogue on critical issues involving food, fuel, health and fiber, attracted nearly 300 leading authorities from around the world for its 2003 World Congress meeting in St. Louis, to discuss hot issues with other key decision makers in agriculture.

    Opening remarks by the Rt. Honorable James B. Bolger ONZ, chairman of the WAF, kicked off the meeting, "A New Age in Agriculture: Working Together to Create the Future and Dismantle Barriers." In his comments, Bolger challenged participants to maintain an open- mind and work together to develop solutions for feeding the world's 800 million hungry. Speakers addressing the role of agriculture in the global economy included Lennart Bäge, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and president of the Sasakawa African Association, David Raisbeck, vice chairmen of Cargill, Inc., Charles Riemenschneider, representative for Jacques Diouf, director general of the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization, and Dr. Pedro Sanchez, World Food Prize laureate and co-chair of the United Nations Task Force on Hunger.

    Dr. Borlaug emphasized the correlation between hunger levels and civil unrest, pointing out that only eight percent of countries with low levels of hunger are mired in conflict. Dr. Sanchez reaffirmed this point, highlighting the importance of empowering the poor through democratic participation in government as a means of alleviating poverty.

    Throughout the keynote speeches a definite framework of issues emerged: trade, technology and sustainability are the primary forces at work in the global agricultural economy.

    Building upon this framework, trends, and specifically barriers, relative to trade, technology and sustainability provided the content for subsequent discussions in both general session and roundtable formats.

    Once the barriers to trade, technology and sustainability were identified, all attendees were called to participate in a number of interactive workshops, each led by a moderator with one selected "expert presenter." These workshops offered attendees the opportunity to express personal insights and key learnings, resulting in meaningful debate and the creation of solutions.

    Trade

    General Sessions and Roundtable Discussions

    George Mallinckrodt, K.B.E., chairman of Schroders, plc, discussed the economic outlook of the global economy, emphasizing the need for countries such as China, Russia and India to emerge as "global drivers" with the potential to stimulate the sluggish world economy. Mallinckrodt pointed out the need for the U.S., Europe and Japan to willingly accept imports from these countries if they are to truly reach their potential as large agricultural producers.

    Jorge H. Casenave, former undersecretary of agriculture for Argentina, moderated a roundtable discussion, entitled -- "Impact of Free Trade Agreements in Agriculture: the NAFTA Example." Participants discussed outcomes of NAFTA including the lowering of barriers between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

    WAF advisory board chairman, the Rt. Hon. James B. Bolger, ONZ, former prime minister of New Zealand, led roundtable participants in a discussion addressing the greatest barriers to free trade and trade as an economic development tool. High tariffs, access to markets and subsidies were noted as major barriers to trade. Participants felt that, while most countries have the will to modify these barriers, political and social influence prevent them from doing so.

    Workshops         Trade workshops included, "Trade Rules, Agriculture
and Development," "Competition for Future Markets -- Role of the
Small Farmer" and "Agricultural Markets."

    Key themes drawn upon from these workshops included a need for transparency in trade, greater involvement and empowerment of women as the major producers and innovators in agriculture, and the importance of developing local and regional markets before exploring global markets.

    Technology

    General Session & Roundtable Discussion

    Fons Schmid, chairman of the Global Food Safety Task Force and vice president Food Safety, Royal Ahold, briefly spoke to the European Union's position on GMOs -- noting that clear labeling and consumer education has proven successful in allowing GMO and non-GMO products to coexist.

    The technology roundtable brought participants together to discuss barriers to technology transfer, acceptance, development and natural resource management. A primary barrier identified for technology is in the education of policy makers, legislators and the media. Because these groups are inherently urban, they are often ignorant to the information needs of the rural community. This, coupled with the fact that developing countries' media is largely centralized, inhibits even educated media from reaching the communities that can agriculturally benefit from their coverage. It also hinders the spread of information on new agricultural technologies to relevant audiences, specifically the women in agriculture who readily absorb and utilize these new technologies.

    Representatives from developing countries also discussed the need to assess the technological requirements of specific communities, as some advances may benefit certain cultures, and, for political, social or cultural reasons, may not benefit others.

    The need for a more direct link between the developers of new technology and the farmers, who will use it, was also expressed.

    Workshops

    Technology workshops included, "Impact of Technology on Agriculture," "Intellectual Property Rights" and "Small Farmers."

    Creative solutions for the aforementioned technology barriers included the involvement of small farmers in the innovation process, drawing them in as part of the development of the technology, and ensuring it fulfills their needs.

    Sustainability

    General Session & Roundtable Discussion

    Bart-Jan Krouwel, head directorate of sustainability for Rabobank, and Jeroen Bordewijk, president of the Sustainable Agricultural Initiative (SAI) and vice president for Unilever, spoke of key issues facing sustainable agriculture. Bordewijk defined sustainable agriculture as, "...a productive, competitive and efficient way to produce agricultural raw materials, while at the same time protecting and improving the natural environment as well as the socio-economic conditions of local communities." Examples were cited of recent SAI initiatives including the introduction of work groups on cereals and coffee.

    The sustainability roundtable addressed the barriers to sustainability advances and management of global resources including water. Andrew Bennett, president of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture of Switzerland, identified the greatest long-term barrier to sustainability as the lack of unity in purpose - "for whom are we sustaining the land and how?"

    Under-investment in publicly funded research and development and standards for sustainability assessment were also barriers discussed.

    Workshops

    Sustainability workshops included, "Millennium Goals and Agriculture/Hunger" and "Management of the World's Resources (from an Ag/Food perspective)."

    In order to rehabilitate degraded agricultural lands, participants suggested on-the-ground demonstrations of new technologies to show farmers the environmental and economic benefits of sustaining the land.

    Other solutions included linking local, national and global conservation strategies in order to coordinate at a grass-roots level. This includes better cooperation between the organic and biotech communities, as farmers are currently caught in the middle of this crossfire.

    Convergence of the Issues

    Trade, technology and sustainability were all addressed in the policy roundtable led by Gary Blumenthal, president and CEO, World Perspectives. India, Indonesia, Kenya, Korea, Peru, South Africa, China, New Zealand and Japan were all represented in the discussion. Blumenthal focused on the correlation between crisis and politics, politics and policy, and policy's effect on markets. He emphasized the need for conditions conducive to promoting economic growth such as stable, low inflation, lower taxes and openness to trade. David Walker, deputy chief of mission from New Zealand, the Honorable Kipruto Arap Kirwa, Kenya's minister of agriculture, and the Honorable Alvaro Enrique Quijandria Salmon, minister of agriculture from Peru, also identified trade as the major issue affecting their countries. Dr. Memed Gunawan, secretary general for Indonesia's minister of agriculture, and Siphiwe Mkhize, PhD, minister of agriculture from South America's Washington D.C. embassy, felt that technology was of greater concern for their countries. The Honorable V. Sobhanadreeswara Rao, minister of agriculture for Andhra Pradesh, India, felt his country's struggle related more to issues of sustainability.

    Following the policy roundtable, U.S. senator from Missouri, Christopher S. "Kit" Bond, addressed the Congress focusing on biotechnology and its role in feeding the world's hungry.

    Looking to the future, roundtable discussions -- emphasizing the role of public-private partnerships and the needs of the consumer -- brought corporate, NGO, academic and governmental leaders together to continue to address the ways in which trade, technology and sustainability concerns overlap.

    Ernest S. Micek, chairman and CEO of Cargill, Inc., led participants in a discussion on how to enable developing countries to take advantage of trade systems, technology and other tools to develop sustainable agriculture and food systems through public and private partnerships. Micek outlined the elements of success one sees in successful partnerships of this nature: commitment of both parties, the expertise of private sector participants, a champion for the cause, and appropriate funding.

    Dr. Thomas Haggai, chairman and CEO, IGA, Inc., convened with grocery manufactures and others in the food value chain, including consumer groups, to discuss consumers' needs, rights and concerns, and how they impact agricultural policies. Haggai emphasized the need to develop long-term solutions for issues of starvation and malnutrition, while addressing the short-term needs of those suffering now.

    Missouri Governor Bob Holden served as moderator for the closing roundtable discussion on agriculture at the local level. Holden and fellow participants addressed production agriculture and the interrelationship of policies affecting it.

    Bolger delivered the closing remarks reminding attendees of the value of open debate initiated throughout the course of the Congress. He encourage participants to let the dialogue continue, so collective action can be taken on all agricultural issues, especially those related to trade, technology and sustainability.

    A complete report summarizing all discussions and outcomes of the Congress will be available this summer.

  ots Original Text Service: World Agricultural Forum (WAF) Internet: http://www.newsaktuell.ch           Contact: Melissa Lackey or Lauren Gretz Phone: +1/314-469-3500



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