FAO Failure

16 Jun 2002

Judging from what the newspapers have to say, last week’s FAO summit in Rome was an utter shambles. Change was conspicuous by its absence. Sadly but predictably, the objective set (to drastically cut the number of deaths by hunger round the world) was the same as six years ago, despite the fact that the FAO has already proved incapable of achieving it, partly on account of structural motives and partly due to a clear lack of freedom of action. In short, the FAO summit was little more than a TV commercial for the few leaders of wealthy countries who bothered to turn up. And that only added more venom to the blackmail that has long been perpetrated against those countries that are still struggling to emerge from the most disastrous economic situations. Conducted, at times comically, by the Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, the summit unmasked its true nature when it opened the door to the marketing of GMOs. Berlusconi summed up all the vacuity of the get-together when he argued that, ‘We can’t ignore the miracles that have already been achieved with the use of GM seeds. In poorly irrigated areas and without having to resort to chemicals to repel pests, they ensure us more abundant harvests than non-GM seeds. Though the Italian Agriculture Minister Giovanni Alemanno made a justly cautious and measured speech, his superior casually swept away all before him. It is now clear that Italy’s special relationship with the USA is more important than anything else.

World agricultural output has never been so high, yet hunger is still an urgent global problem. Paradoxical though it may seem, by failing to feed the needy, models of intensive farming have already shown just how risky they are. How can we expect to solve the problem by boosting production still further? Many delegates from poor countries talked round the subject to avoid saying what they really meant. Blackmail! In exchange for the promise of extra cash, the rich countries are prepared to go cap in hand to United States, who want to impose their industrial methods and technological inventions (especially ones such as GMOs, that are viewed with a jaundiced eye by western public opinion) on countries in distress. What a perverse logic. Instead of solving problems, it made them worse!

One is left with a bitter taste in one’s mouth. Instead of investing in alternative projects and fair, sustainable methods of development, the institutional world has manifested impotence and lack of will. Not just the rich but also some delegates of poor countries appeared anything but disinterested in the fight against one of the biggest dramas in history. While their wives shopped in Rome’s fashionable Via Condotti, they were rolling in the aisles at Berlusconi’s wisecrack, already working out how to allocate the cash he was promising them to prop up their evil governments and settle altercations with their quarrelsome neighbors.

If we go on like this, nothing is ever going to change. One can’t help but feel for people like Vandana Shiva, who continue to talk sense without being listened to. At least NGOs are capable of taking the problem seriously and addressing it constructively. They haven’t got yokes round their necks and they know how to interpret reality – two things the world’s powerful are plainly incapable of. If Silvio Berlusconi announces that ‘The underdevelopment of poor countries isn’t the fault of the industrialized countries which produce 80% of the world’s wealth’, then either these industrialized countries are particularly malicious or they’re living in a different world.
Adapted by John Irving

First printed in La Stampa on 16/06/02

Carlo Petrini

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