Food crisis focus of 3-day school

Hugh Campbell.
Hugh Campbell.
The world food crisis will soon be in the spotlight at the University of Otago's latest Foreign Policy School.

One of the school's directors, Associate Prof Hugh Campbell, said many people were focusing on the world financial crisis, including interest rates and the financial sector, but the world food crisis might actually loom much larger for New Zealand.

The rapid increase in global food commodity prices early last year had fuelled concerns about the re-emergence of food scarcity as a global as well as regional issue.

Prof Campbell, who is also director of the Centre for the Study of Agriculture, Food and Environment at Otago University, said the food crisis raised questions about global trade negotiations and the push towards a free market in food.

It also asked questions about whether a large integrated global food market had priced food out of the range of poor people around the world.

"What has happened over the last two years is that tens of millions of people globally suddenly couldn't afford food.

"The crisis of world hunger is not something we can sit back and pretend is anyone else's problem," he said.

New Zealand was proportionally the world's largest food exporter.

"Over 90% of the food we produce is exported. That is how we generate our wealth as a country."

New Zealanders were "part owners" of world food problems and could also be part of finding a solution.

The school will also address whether New Zealand has a regional responsibility in terms of food security and consider issues of environmental sustainability and climate change.

Many consulates, embassies and Government departments - traditional supporters of the Otago school - were operating under great constraints, given global financial difficulties, but school organisers said they had still managed to bring together a "stellar cast" of international speakers.

Leading speakers include:

> Robert Watson, chief scientific adviser in the United Kingdom Department of Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs; former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

> Prof Tim Lang, of the Centre for Food Policy, City University London, who is well known for popularising the concept of food miles.

His video link presentation will focus on how to develop a more sustainable diet.

> Prof Jules Pretty, of the University of Essex, a leading authority on the sustainability of agricultural production and the environmental impact of agricultural intensification.

> Claire Mahon, joint co-ordinator of the Project on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human rights.

The three-day school will be held at Salmond College, Dunedin, starting on Friday.

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