New U.N. food chief eyes more help for poor importers

ROME Mon Jun 27, 2011 3:29pm BST

Jose Graziano da Silva of Brazil, the newly appointed director-general of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speaks during a news conference at the FAO headquarters in Rome June 27, 2011. REUTERS/FAO/Alessia Pierdomenico/Handout

Jose Graziano da Silva of Brazil, the newly appointed director-general of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speaks during a news conference at the FAO headquarters in Rome June 27, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/FAO/Alessia Pierdomenico/Handout

ROME (Reuters) - The newly elected chief of the United Nations food agency said on Monday he wanted to do more to help poor importing countries cope with high and volatile food prices which he expected to persist for several years.

Brazil's Jose Graziano da Silva, elected head of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on Sunday to replace Senegal's Jacques Diouf, was outlining his plans for the organisation at a news conference on Monday.

"The world will still have problems especially poor countries that need to import most of their food," he said.

"This is one of the things I would like us to get much more involved in. For coming years...FAO could play an important role to help these countries deal with price volatility."

World food prices hit a record high earlier this year, triggered mainly by bad weather, reviving memories of soaring prices in 2007-2008 that sparked riots in countries such as Egypt, Haiti and Cameroon.

Graziano da Silva said high food prices were not just a temporary imbalance and would persist for more than a few years.

"This is related to financial markets and until we reach a more stable financial situation worldwide, commodities prices will reflect that," he said.

He said volatility can be even worse than sustained high prices for farmers and consumers because of the uncertainty it creates.

A meeting of farm ministers from G20 leading economies last week had started to correctly address the ways to handle price volatility, he said, adding that the implementation of its decisions should help.

The G20 action plan included measures to boost agricultural output, food market transparency and policy coordination but fell short of calls by Paris for a tough crackdown on speculators.

BIOFUELS

When asked about the effects of biofuels production on food security, Graziano da Silva said he had seen positive experiences in countries such as Argentina, but more of a direct competition in parts of Asia and Africa.

"Biofuels are not a silver bullet. Nor do I think they should be demonised," he said.

He also suggested more monitoring and preparation for natural disasters was needed to ensure food security.

Graziano da Silva, currently head of the FAO in Latin America and the Caribbean and a former minister for food security in Brazil, was elected with 92 votes out of 180 cast, beating Spain's Miguel Angel Moratinos, who got 88 votes.

He will serve a three and a half year term starting in January next year, renewable for another four years.

The FAO is the largest U.N. agency with an annual budget of some $1 billion and 3,600 workers.

The 66-year-old organisation adopted a package of reforms in response to a withering independent assessment funded by its members in 2007, which said it risked "terminal decline" due to its weak governance and lack of transparency and accountability.

But this year Britain threatened to pull out of the FAO unless it improved its still "patchy" performance and some donors, such as the United States, have initiated agricultural development projects of their own.

Graziano da Silva, an agronomist and economist, said he aimed to bridge a divide between donor countries and developing countries, to foster consensus and avoid paralysis in the organisation.

(Editing by Keiron Henderson)

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