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In the medium term, investment in infrastructure and agricultural research, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Taverne, will be required, together with support for small farmers so that they can access finance and expertise. Other noble Lords have made these points very tellingly.

All areas of agricultural research, especially in areas with limited water, as we have heard, and with the pressures of climate change, will need to be investigated. There are major questions about how this can be done with limited land and water, and with anxieties over conservation and pollution.

A few noble Lords have talked about the impact of population growth—the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lord Taverne particularly referred to this. Clearly, far more needs to be done to ensure that reproductive rights are respected and that women have access to education and, where they wish it, to contraception. We know what an effect this has, and that already the growth in population is showing signs of levelling off. We know what to do here. Therefore, we have to ensure that there is the political will to carry this through.

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I should like to put a number of questions to the Minister. This crisis will, as Save the Children points out, impact the reaching of the MDGs, which we are a long way off in many cases anyway. Governments must therefore judge their performance in responding to the current crisis by the effect, for example, on malnutrition rates. I would like the noble Lord’s comment on that. What will be done to support the social protection programmes I have referred to? Again, in the United Kingdom, it is significant that the early social protection programmes, pensions and so on, of the early 20th century underpinned our own development. The move towards social protection programmes is extremely welcome.

What will be done to investigate the role of financial speculation in fuelling price rises and volatility, and examining means of protecting consumers from the effects of such speculation? Will the Government be seeking a moratorium on the targets for the use of biofuels, a matter the noble Lord, Lord Alton, described as the unintended consequence of seeking greener policies? How will the Government target support at small-scale farmers—if the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, will allow them to remain so—and how might they be given increased access to microcredit and other financial services?

Christian Aid, Oxfam, World Vision and other NGOs rightly emphasise that particular support must be targeted at women, partly because they suffer first when there is extreme poverty—men are expected to have a larger share of food, boys are kept in education longer in a financial crisis than are girls, and so on. As Christian Aid points out, with the proportion of women in agriculture as high as 70 per cent in some countries, we need to ensure that they have good access to education, information, science and technology, as well as credit schemes and income generating activities, and of course reproductive health. Given the cutbacks in DfID, what is happening in relation to gender? How many people are working on this area, and what plans are there for expansion or contraction?

There will be new problems associated with climate change, which will need to be addressed in this context. Natural resources such as seeds, agricultural land and water must be protected in the face of climate change, and competition from cash crops. I welcome the Minister’s comments on that.

We are coming up to the G8, as has been mentioned, and I know that this will be on the agenda. What does the Minister anticipate will be the G8's plans? What proposals will be put in September at the MDGs’ assessment meeting? What changes will be advocated for Doha at the end of the year? The noble Lord, Lord Haskins, made very clear how important this round has become, and the pressures on it.

At the beginning of 2007, I received the anticipated prices for my father’s barley. I was stunned by their extraordinary increase. At that time there seemed to be little talk of increases in food prices. Now that discussion is widespread. That is surely welcome. My noble friend Lord Taverne has stimulated us to take this further. He has said that we must restore aid for agriculture to the top of the agenda and that we must support the best of agricultural science. Everything

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that other noble Lords have also said from their long and wide experience endorses the essence of what he says, whatever they may feel about certain aspects of it. I hope that our Government can rise to his challenge.

3.15 pm

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, for moving the debate today on the effects of the rise in world food prices.

It has been an important and fascinating debate on an important and topical issue. I always think that these debates demonstrate the very high quality of your Lordships’ House.

The effects of these rises in food prices have undoubtedly pitched the world into what has been described by several of your Lordships as nothing less than a crisis. There has not been, and probably never will be, enough attention given to this most pressing problem.

Yet, as we all know, attention is not enough. We need action too. When it comes to action, there is a distinct split in the way to proceed. It is a matter of timing. The crisis demands both immediate and long-term action. The immediate course of action is more or less clear. From March 2007 to March 2008, the price of corn has risen by 31 per cent, rice by 74 per cent, Soya by 87 per cent and wheat by 130 per cent. The UK needs to play its part in a worldwide effort to deliver swift emergency assistance to help those in countries hit hardest by these price hikes. This sudden increase in the price of staple foods is often spoken about as an aberration. What work did the Minister’s department do to prevent the current crisis? Did the rapid increase in prices take the Minister by surprise?

One factor in the rapid price hike is the allocation of land to meet western demand for biofuels, a matter mentioned by many noble Lords. Arable soil that could be producing staple crops is being used instead to produce supposedly green fuel alternatives. I fear that the Government rushed headlong into biofuels without checking that systems were in place that would make certain of their sustainability in the truest sense of the word.

We, on this side of the House, appreciate the role that biofuels can play in reducing carbon emissions—reductions that could help mitigate the effect of climate change on the developing world. But, I hope that the Government appreciate the seriousness of the effect of biofuels on food shortages. Indeed, the Government's answer was to announce yet another review of the economic and environmental impacts, which will be “taken into account in the formation of the UK policy beyond 2010”. Does the Minister not agree that this is perhaps a little too late?

As we heard in a fascinating and forceful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, concentrating on the plight of farmers in the UK—a dire indictment on the present Government’s attitude towards the countryside—they have not addressed the problem, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, of urban poverty being bad, but rural poverty was worse. I could not agree with him more. There needs to be a

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policy on the sustainability of biofuels for the future. Could more action be taken now to address their manifest impact on food shortages? Indeed, it is very important that we realise a long-term approach will be required if we are going to address food shortages in a meaningful way.

While immediate assistance is important, it can provide only temporary and incomplete relief. Thus, the focus must be placed on measures that will have lasting impacts. We on this side of the House feel that emphasis should be placed on increasing global agricultural production by encouraging more research into new farming techniques and crops. In fact, it was the Conservative Globalisation and Global Poverty Policy Group which recommended last year that DfID focus more on agriculture. The group noted that,

I applaud the work of FARM-Africa, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.

This is our position, and it does not seem to chime with the Government’s. In 2007, the National Audit Office found that,

Does the Minister think that this decreased emphasis on agriculture has contributed to the current crisis? As several of your Lordships have stressed, it is important that in the short and long terms the approach needs to change. My noble friend Lord Selborne and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, rightly stressed the importance of water, infrastructure and new technologies. A renewed commitment to agriculture, infrastructure and helping developing countries with emerging technologies will be a main way to address food shortages and malnutrition. Any delay will exacerbate the current problems. We urge the Government to act swiftly. Yet swift action may not be enough. Unless we plan for long-term improvement, the problems that the developing world now faces will persist. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, unless there is a considered approach, we consign people in the developing world to a future of starvation and economic stagnation.

However, an opportunity for progress has arrived. Soon, the G8 and the WTO will meet. It is essential that the Government avoid the temptation of continuing trade protectionism. The noble Lord, Lord Haskins, spelt out clearly that protectionist tariffs, especially across the EU, will only exacerbate the current crisis. That said, there needs to be a cohesive approach. Does the Minister not agree that there should be some EU consensus on the type of trade approach to be taken before the meeting of the World Trade Organisation? Will the Minister give us assurances that the Government

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will fight to preserve free-trade arrangements and resist protection which will only fuel the current crisis? It is an old debate, but it strikes at the heart of the matter. I hope that at the coming international meetings, our Government will be on the side of those who really need their help most.

1.24 pm

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I am very new to this brief and have tried to prepare for this event, but I did not work out how many questions there would be. I have done a quick calculation and if I answer them all, they will get 10 seconds each. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, for initiating this debate and other noble Lords for their contributions. The points they made were extremely important. I agreed with officials beforehand that we will produce a comprehensive response and try to pick up all the points. Therefore, I shall speak but briefly on each contribution.

The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, made the point, which the Government entirely accept, that the key to the future is agricultural research. We are committed in DfID to a £1 billion research strategy over five years and £400 million of that will be spent on agriculture. DfID research will support new technologies, including GM and the development of sustainable agricultural practices. The overriding objective is to safeguard human health and the environment. We support the involvement of GMOs only as long as international rules are followed. Our work is targeted at helping developing countries make their own decisions about GM technologies. It is fair to say, however, that we accept the view of the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, that the debate has become too polarised and, while these technologies are probably not a silver bullet, the debate is too important to continue in that way. We should encourage ourselves and the world fully to understand the potentials of these technologies. The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, mentioned the Gates Foundation. DfID supports work with that foundation and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

I am afraid that my expertise—or even my brief, to be fair—does not trespass far into the areas raised by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I accept his general proposition and that of other contributors that agriculture in the UK and worldwide requires a joined-up policy on farming, land, water and, indeed, energy. The noble Lord in part touched on protectionism. The Government are absolutely clear that protectionism in the long term and short term does not contribute to solving this problem. The free movement of goods, particularly food, around the world and the bringing down of trade barriers are the keys to the long-term feeding of the world and the long-term health of its economies.

The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, touched on water in particular. The Government support the Commission for Africa report which called for significant increases in investment in irrigation. The work of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre touches on this area. It is committed to improving the granularity of long-term meteorological forecasting in the area of climate change, because it is important that infrastructure is targeted in the right places, and infrastructure for water will

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never be cheap. It is important to recognise that over and over again you come back to research being the necessary starting point for sensible investment in any areas necessary to address this problem.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for his input. It was said earlier that the CAP had done some good things over the years but, frankly, it now stands in the way of trade liberalisation. None of us can comfortably live with the very seizing concept of $2 a day for a cow, compared with $1 a day for a person. The Government are committed to as rapid a reform of the agricultural policy as is possible.

It is important, however, that we keep coming back to some of the points made by the noble Lord about the importance of moving western technology to the developing world. World organisations have reacted quite well to this latest shock. The World Food Programme has asked them for more funds; it has received more funds. Although that is still a short-term approach when we must focus on the medium and long term, I think that the developed world's response to the crisis has in many ways been commendable. The noble Lord touched on the importance of science, a general view which we totally support. He touched also on the issue of GM foods. I thank him for his support for the general concept of a rational debate.

We are involved with the World Bank, which is committed to increasing significantly its investment in agriculture. It has announced a package of another £1.2 billion for short and long-term initiatives. The noble Lord reasonably asked why we did not see the food crisis coming. My notes say, “We did”. Well, yes. Last year’s World Bank development report focused on the need to ramp up the investment in food and agriculture. Last year the EU and the World Bank announced plans to double expenditure. The UK led an international response, and the Prime Minister initiated an open letter to the G8 urging a co-ordinated response. I will return to that point.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked whether the Government are responding promptly to short-term needs. I think that we have. He asked about a number of specific areas, including Afghanistan and Ethiopia. We have reacted in all those areas and will touch on those in our written response. I liked his reference to the World Bank programme and the 10 points. It is crucial to centre on the Doha round; we cannot afford not to be successful there. Although it is a difficult time for the world as we run up to the US elections, much of the world sees the importance of reform. There is no question but that the Government will press this point in the G8. We all must hope for an effective way forward.

The noble Earl’s specific question—I shall ensure that it is covered more precisely later—was whether the World Food Programme’s call for exemptions in export bans should move forward. We agree that export bans should be lifted for the World Food Programme and for all food exports. The Government particularly encourage the World Food Programme to buy its food locally. Bans stop that trade. It is by spending money locally that we can keep the local infrastructure healthy.

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We have responded to food crises, particularly in Ethiopia, where we have specifically focused £25 million for the crisis in addition to our £91 million. This is a safety net programme which we think is particularly important. I shall return to that point.

After a general review of the challenge, the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, touched on the issue of bigger and smaller farms. Our experience suggests that, certainly initially, value is created and aid provided if smaller farms are made more productive. We think that the key is not so much changing the shape of farming in the developing world but making it more productive. We certainly agree with his general view that protectionism and trade bans are wrong and that success in the world trade talks is essential. We come back to the basic point that the scientific contribution is one of the greatest contributions that the developing world can make to meeting this challenge.

We take a partly contrary view on the issue of large versus small farms because our focus is very much on rural farms, some 80 per cent of which are in poor countries. We think that the priorities are access to better fertilisers and seeds, social protection programmes—a point which the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, covered—and improving the quality of the land.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned the difficult position regarding the Rome summit. Zimbabwe is a member of the Food and Agriculture Organisation and, as with all United Nations organisations, it had the right to be at the summit. President Mugabe did not meet any members of the UK delegation. Zimbabwe is a very sad situation and we continue try to help the people of Zimbabwe with direct aid provided through NGOs. We are sad that that aid activity has for the moment been suspended.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, covered a number of points. If I answered all of them, I think that it would use up all my speaking time. She made the important historical point that successful agriculture has to come before successful industrialisation. I agree with her that the development of social protection programmes provides a safety net which gives countries the confidence to go forward. I also note her points on gender. DfID’s response is very much one which works through women. In developing societies women are particularly at risk. Conversely, they have a particularly strong capability to bring improvement.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, properly differentiated between immediate aid and longer-term programmes. We agree. However, we should have some confidence that the demands for more money from the World Food Programme have been met. We must thank Saudi Arabia for a very big contribution. However, the real solutions will be found in the longer term through both science and longer-term investment.

We have also had a sort of biofuels debate. I do not think that we should throw away biofuels. There have been some adverse consequences, but those have not come without balancing benefits. We initiated the Gallagher review, which has now reported, and for the moment we are at the limit of how much biofuel we intend to use in the UK. Everyone is looking increasingly to the new generation of biofuels, which will be much more ecologically acceptable as the way forward.

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Noble Lords have expressed how difficult this crisis is for the poor. Poor families in the UK notice world food prices more than do others in this country. Around the world, however, 850 million people do not have enough, in some cases spending 90 per cent of their budget on food, and they are really suffering. Some of these people live on 50p a day. I have tried to envisage what that must mean, thinking that 50p must buy much more in the developing world. Sadly, it does not buy a lot more. It means having only one meal a day and spending most of the day looking for food.

The Government have been quick to act. The Prime Minister wrote to leaders of the G8 calling for international action to combat the impact of world food prices. By May, the World Food Programme’s emergency appeal had been fully funded. It was a great achievement. However, it was a short-term response. We are also working towards a longer-term solution, and thriving agriculture is the cornerstone of that solution.

Food aid saves lives in an emergency. In the medium term, safety net programmes that make small payments to the poorest families on a regular basis can prevent life-threatening famine returning. However, in the longer term, the only solution is to increase agricultural productivity. In some ways, we forget our own history; developed societies have been able to achieve their developed status only by developing successful agriculture, the foundation on which both life and development are built.

Increasing agricultural productivity has the highest pay-offs in terms of reducing poverty. Evidence from Asia and Africa shows that, with improvements in agriculture, you also get improvements in other areas of the economy. In Zambia, $1 of additional farm income creates a further $1.50 of income outside agriculture. The green revolution has tripled cereal production in Asia over the past 40 years. Unfortunately, these benefits are not flowing through. Growth is stalling in south Asia and African agricultural growth is still too low. People now have less to eat than they did 30 years ago.

At last month’s Rome food summit, the UK called for international action to double agricultural output in Africa, to double agricultural growth in Asia and to double investment in agricultural research. The UK is making a substantial financial contribution to these targets. We have committed more than £500 million to a package of measures including agricultural research and technology development. Safety net programmes are in place in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Bangladesh.

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