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UNESCO Ag Report Encourages Paradigm Shift to Local and Sustainable Farming

3-year agriculture report release coincides with food riots

By JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
updated 12:19 p.m. ET, Tues., April. 15, 2008

PARIS - As riots erupt over food shortages in the Caribbean and Africa and hunger approaches crisis stage in parts of Asia, an international report said farmers worldwide must reduce dependency on fossil fuels and better protect the environment.

The report, three years in the making, was released Tuesday at UNESCO headquarters in Paris as surging food prices fanned violence and exposed serious concerns about the global food supply in coming decades.

The report, known as the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, takes a broad look at farming in relation to hunger, poverty, the environment and social equity.

"The IAASTD encourages us to take up what can be called a paradigm change. The status quo today is no longer an option," said Guilhem Calvo, an adviser with UNESCO's ecological and earth sciences division.

Citing the impact oil prices on both transportation and production of farm products, he said, "We must develop agriculture that is less dependent on fossil fuels, favors the use of locally available resources and base research efforts ... on intensification of natural processes," like using natural fertilizers and protecting soil and water supply.

The World Bank and the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization commissioned 400 contributors, from scientists to businessmen.

The report warned that large swaths of central and western Asia and Africa are running out of water.

"There is recognition that the mounting crisis in food security is of a different complexity and potentially different magnitude than the one of the 1960s," the panel said in the summary.

Wheat prices have risen 130 percent since March 2007, UNESCO says, while soy prices jumped 87 percent. The World Bank reported last week that world food prices have risen 83 percent over the last three years.

Some critics are blaming, in part, the increasing use of biofuel. With crude oil prices high, some farmers in the West have turned to growing wheat, sugar beets or other products to produce fuel. Critics say that has inflated food prices.

Among the 64 governments involved in the report, Australia, Canada, and the United States expressed reservations about some of language as it related to market access and biotechnology.

The report gingerly navigated that issue, saying that economic, social and environmental impact _ both positive and negative _ "differ widely" when it comes to bioenergy.

However, it said, "The diversion of agricultural crops to fuel can raise food prices and reduce our ability to alleviate hunger throughout the world." The report pointed to some promise from next-generation biofuel technology.

The report also raised climate change as a serious issue with potentially global implications.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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