Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Stop converting arable land for bio-fuels, says Abdullah
It will deepen global food crisis and drive up food prices


Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has called for a halt to the widespread conversion of arable land to produce biofuel as it is deepening global food scarcity and further driving up food prices. Speaking at the opening of the Sixth Summit of the Group of Eight Islamic Developing Countries (D-8) here yesterday, Abdullah said the world must not allow the zeal for energy security to come into direct conflict with the basic need for food production. Expressing deep concern over spiralling food prices and skyrocketing fuel prices plaguing the international community, especially the poor, he reiterated Malaysia’s call for measures to stop speculation in the futures market which were pushing oil prices beyond their actual levels. Describing the food shortage as the most urgent challenge facing the world today, he said the price of food had increased beyond the normal abilities to pay by the poor, which form the majority of the world’s people. He stressed that these problems had come to the fore in the midst of a serious prospect of a more general and widespread global economic recession. “We must, therefore, identify the bold measure that we need to take now in order to guarantee the wellbeing of our economies and our peoples in the future. “There must also be consensus on the appropriate methods of producing or creating alternative sources of energy,” he said in his speech at the summit, themed “Meeting Global Challenges Through Innovative Cooperation”. D-8 member states comprise Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Nigeria and Turkey. Among the leaders attending the summit are Indonesian President Susio Bambang Yudhoyono, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. It is estimated that global food prices have risen by more than 75 per cent since 2000. The increasing prices are definitely putting increasing strains on the family budgets, especially those of the poor households in the developing world. The Prime Minister said he believed that the priority given by most countries in the past to the industrialisation of their economies had resulted in much neglect of the agricultural sector. He said the lower level of investment allocated to this sector had caused inadequate expansion and modernisation of agriculture generally, leading to inadequate supplies of food and triggering the current food crisis. “In Malaysia, we have given emphasis to the development of agriculture in our national development plans and we shall continue to do so in the years to I come,” he said. Abdullah, who is also finance minister, said this meeting should come out with a clear message on the need to boost food production in the world. “This is especially needed in the context of additional difficulties brought about by climate change and natural disasters. There is also the danger of the food crisis creating political unrest in many societies,” he said. Abdullah said maintaining a steady and continuous growth of the D-8 member States’ respective economies would be “our contribution to combat the looming recession in the global economy.” “Our peoples in the D-8 group of countries will be among those feeling the greatest pain arising out of the current international economic downturn. We need to brace ourselves, identify the right policies and take the correct steps to lessen the sufferings of our citizens, particularly those in the lower income categories,” he said. Abdullah further said that the current crisis in food supplies and rising oil prices had forced Governments to curtail expenditures or re-allocate resources for development to meet the more immediate needs of societies. “We should share ideas on how to mitigate the negative impacts of these short-term actions on the long-term requirements of sustained growth and development,” he said. Abdullah said the D-8 member States were meeting at a time when the world economy was facing grave threats to its well-being as a result of a combination of unprecedented circumstances where the steep rise in the price of oil was an equally urgent challenge. He said that besides adding significantly to the cost of food, the high price of oil itself had become an increasingly critical threat to the well-being of the global economy. “The global nature of the problems that I have just outlined clearly requires global-level solutions. Therefore, at this meeting, we need to achieve a consensus on the gravity 3f the situation and agree to send a united message to the world to state our viewpoint about the problems which now confront the international community,” he said. Touching on the D-8 grouping, Abdullah, who assumes the chairmanship from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono, said that the D-8 was at crossroads. Abdullah said the grouping must seriously take stock of what they had achieved and what could have been achieved. This, he stressed, would enable hem to decide the best way forward o build upon and add value to what Lad been achieved, thus far. “One decade has passed since we came together with the primary objective of strengthening our economic and trade relations. Our achievements as a group have been modest, we must admit. It is appropriate that we adopt, at this Sixth Summit, a new Road Map for the next decade of our cooperation,’ he said. Abdullah also said that the grouping must choose results- oriented initiatives. “In the context of current concerns, the D-8 might wish to give priority to projects in the area of renewable energy and the further development of the halal industry. “I believe the D-8 Business Forum which had earlier discussed these issues can quickly come up with concrete ventures,” he said. Member countries needed to be innovative in identifying suitable group activities, programmes or projects, he said, adding that one important thing to do was to make concerted efforts to increase the private sector participation in the activities, programmes and projects. “After all, they are the real engines of growth and development in our economies. I might add that we should also involve our civil societies wherever appropriate,” he said. While paying tribute and appreciation to Susilo for his dedication and efforts during his tenure. Abdullah said Malaysia was honoured to assume the chairmanship of D-8, after Indonesia. “We are ready to do our part to further strengthen the linkages between and among the members of our group. With full cooperation, support and commitment of everyone, we can attain our goals,” he said. - Bernama

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