German Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer has called for a drastic rise in European agricultural production, in a reverse of the bloc's previous agricultural policy, to counter rising world food prices and shortages.
"We need a farming renaissance, and an increase in agricultural production in Germany, in the whole of the European Union and, more especially, in the developing countries," Seehofer said in an interview to be published on Sunday, April 20.
Speaking to the mass-circulation Bild newspaper, Seehofer noted that the EU had induced farmers to stop using 3.8 million hectares (9.4 million acres) of arable land in recent years to counter surpluses in dairy, produce, wine and meat.
This land should be brought into production once more, he said.
A global problem
The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has estimated that food prices have risen some 55 percent since June 2007 due to rising populations, strong demand from developing countries, the use of certain crops in producing biofuels, and the increasing frequency of floods and droughts amid concern over climate change.
"We have to produce more foodstuffs worldwide in order to prevent further price jumps," Seehofer said.
With an annual population growth of 80 million people, WFP expected food demand to rise 60 percent by 2030, according to the minister.
"We have to recognize once again that agriculture is a question of national interest in every country and not a peripheral issue," he said.
What will happen to subventions?
Food prices have spiralled globally but also within the European Union, which subsidizes its agricultural production.
German news weekly Der Spiegel reported on Saturday that the German Finance Ministry was planning to drastically reduce agricultural subventions in view of the surging food costs.
Seehofer, however, insisted that farming in Europe still had to be protected.
"Agricultural subventions should not be questioned at all, the way it's happening now," he said.
In 2006, European farmers received 50 million euros ($79 million) from the EU budget, 32 million euros of which were in direct payments.
Earlier this month, the head of the International Monetary Fund warned that continued high prices of key foodstuffs could have dire consequences.
"Thousands, hundreds of thousands of people will be starving" and social unrest could lead to war, said Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Saturday, April 12, at an IMF meeting in Washington.
Skyrocketing prices of commodities like rice, wheat, corn and milk have led to riots in developing countries around the world this month, including Indonesia, Egypt, the Philippines and Haiti.
Some experts and government leaders are blaming the price fluctuation on increased biofuel production, which requires a fair amount of agricultural land. High energy prices and inflation are also seen as culprits.
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