Interview - Guidelines could help improve farmland deals - IFAD

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Reuters | 30 October 2009

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - A draft of the first-ever international code of conduct for farmland deals should be ready by the end of the year, the head of the United Nations' International Fund for Agricultural Development said.

The draft document will lead to more discussion about how to ensure deals benefit host nations, as well as those seeking to buy or lease crop land, to ensure food security, Kanayo Nwanze, president of IFAD, told Reuters.

"We have the Kimberley framework for mining, so why don't we put together a framework in the agricultural sector?" Nwanze said, referring to the Kimberley Process used to try to prevent trade in "blood diamonds" that finance civil conflicts.

IFAD, which funds agricultural development in poor countries, is working on the guidelines with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Conference on Trade and Development, and the World Bank, Nwanze said.

Gulf states, South Korea and other countries were caught short last year when food prices spiked to record levels have since sought to secure farmland arrangements in Africa and other regions -- deals that some have characterized as "land grabs."

Rich countries have long been involved in agriculture in Africa, Nwanze said, citing plantations for cocoa in Ivory Coast, rubber in Liberia, and tea in East Africa.

"What we are talking about is not new. It has always existed," said Nwanze.

The colonial-era land deals had benefits for local economies, he said. "It also brought infrastructure, roads, schools, clinics to those communities. So what are we doing today that is different from what we did then?"

Done properly, farmland deals can bring new technology to African nations and create opportunities for local farmers to grow and sell crops, he said.

"There are potential benefits. And there are countries that will lose in the process, because of a shift in the types of trade," he said.

STRONG POLITICAL WILL TO REDUCE HUNGER: IFAD

Last year's food price crisis, which sparked riots and hoarding, helped galvanize political will to invest in small-holder farms to try to combat the root causes of hunger and poverty, Nwanze said.

"People ... now have clear linkages between food security and national security," said Nwanze, who was slated to meet with the interagency team working on the Obama administration's global food security initiative while in Washington.

Rich countries have pledged more than $22 billion to help small farmers in poor countries grow more food.

"We have quite a few countries that have confirmed their commitments, so we'll see," Nwanze said.

IFAD has received a 67 percent increase in support from its donors, giving it $3 billion for funding its work for 2010 through 2012.

It will take a sustained commitment by donors and by leaders of African nations to boost food security in the continent, he said, noting it took decades for China and India to raise agricultural production.

"I would hope by 2020, the Rwandas and the Ghanas and the Tanzanias will still be the countries we talk about," he said, referring to African nations taking steps to improve agriculture. (Editing by Marguerita Choy)
Original source: Reuters
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