Fukuda Cabinet E-mail Magazine No.34 (June 5, 2008) ============================================================
"It is time for the world to act. This is Yasuo Fukuda."
World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick made this statement when he was speaking about the influence of the recent worldwide surge in grain prices. Indeed, during these two years corn, soybean, and wheat prices have more than doubled.
In Japan, we are largely dependent on imports of food, and accordingly, we have seen the price of bread, dairy products, and other foods increase significantly. This is already exacting a substantial toll on the lives of the people, though the issue of food price increases is not only an issue for Japan.
Many of the nations of Asia and Africa rely on imported food. In some of those nations, the average per capita income amounts to less than one dollar per day, and more than half of that has to be spent on purchasing food. The current sharp rise in food prices is a serious issue directly affecting the very lives of poor people who are struggling just to be able to afford to eat.
Moreover, in some nations we are seeing demonstrations and riots by people who have had enough of rising prices, and in some cases this has resulted in casualties and deaths. Last week, my sense of the gravity of this issue was renewed when I held talks with many leaders from Africa on the occasion of the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV).
It was with this strong sense of urgency that I came to Rome on June 3 to attend the World Food Summit.
More than anything else, we must absolutely get food as quickly as possible to those people who at this very instant are experiencing shortfalls of food and to those who are actually starving. For our part, I have announced Japan's additional food assistance, and moreover, called upon countries around the world to release their stockpiles of food and to refrain from instituting restrictions on agricultural exports.
As we look ahead, aiming for long-term stability, we must increase food production capacity on a global scale. It goes without saying that Japan, the world's largest food importer, must achieve greater agricultural production and increase our food self-sufficiency rate. In addition, I have announced that Japan, in close coordination with the international community, will make an active contribution to infrastructure development such as irrigation and research into breed improvement, so as to improve the agricultural productivity of African nations and other developing countries.
The production of biofuels utilizing grain products is also one factor in the recent rapid price increases. As such, I made it clear that Japan will accelerate research on biofuels made of non-food plants as well as the portions of agricultural products that are left over after harvest such as rice straw, in order to bring them into practical production.
It is time for the world to take swift actions based upon collected wisdom and insights.
Before and after attending the World Food Summit, I had opportunities to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. In our talks, it became apparent to me that all of these world leaders share this view on the current situation and consider the food situation that the world is facing now to be of crisis proportions.
Leaders of major industrialized nations will gather together at the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit next month.
As the Chair of the G8 Summit, I intend to place the issue of the rapid increase in food prices firmly on the agenda. I am resolved to issue to the world a robust message -- one that represents the determination of the leaders of the G8 nations -- that will offer assurance for the future about food, the foundation for life.
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