UN Food and Agricultural Chief: ‘Speculation Is an Important Cause of High Prices’
In a SPIEGEL interview, José Graziano da Silva, 62, the new head of the United Nations aid organization FAO, discusses his plans to combat hunger as well as his efforts to limit speculation and the impact it has on dramatically fluctuating food prices.
SPIEGEL: Mr. da Silva, as the new head of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), you have made it your chief goal to eradicate hunger in the world. Isn’t this an extremely ambitious objective, in light of skyrocketing food prices, a continually growing world population and ongoing economic crises?
Da Silva: My plan is ambitious. But you can only motivate people with big objectives. This is precisely what we have to achieve — to mobilize all parts of society and the international community in the fight against hunger. The FAO or a government alone cannot eradicate hunger on earth.
SPIEGEL: Declarations of intent have been around for a while. In 2000, the United Nations announced its intention to cut the percentage of hungry people in half by 2015. But in reality their numbers have actually increased, from 826 million to more than 925 million.
Da Silva: We have also made some progress. In my native Brazil, in Vietnam and, most of all, in Ghana, among other countries, the fight against malnutrition has been very successful. The biggest difference between now and 2000, however, is that ever since the Lehman bankruptcy, the world has understood that we all live on one planet, and that each country depends on others. There is a new sort of solidarity.
SPIEGEL: Where exactly do you see evidence of that?
Da Silva: Nowadays, the world reacts much more quickly to hunger catastrophes. There are special funds available for emergency efforts. This sort of solidarity reflects a new will. Everyone has recognized that no one benefits from hunger. And only if everyone works together can the hunger problem be solved — as with the financial and debt crisis.
SPIEGEL: Wouldn’t it be more effective, as an immediate measure, to enact legislation that would exclude speculators on Wall Street and elsewhere from the food trade? After all, speculation in commodities is seen as one of the main causes of the price increases that drove many millions of people below the poverty line.
Da Silva: In my view, speculation is indeed an important cause of the heavily fluctuating and very high prices. It only benefits banks and hedge funds, but not producers, processors and buyers — and certainly not consumers. The FAO can only do two things. It can supply the market with data, studies and statistics, thereby making markets more transparent. And it can encourage governments to invest more in agriculture.
SPIEGEL: Why don’t you just call for a ban on speculation in food products?
Da Silva: We need stricter regulations, but not just in the area of food. New rules are not the only solution. There are other, important areas, such as the latest round of trade negotiations, the Doha Round among the members of the World Trade Organization. The industrialized countries should finally open their markets and get rid of their agricultural subsidies. It’s not that I’m overly optimistic in this respect, but it would be the right approach.