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Global food crisis focus for Foreign Policy School

Inside the Library

Thursday 7 May 2009 12:18pm

Is the world food crisis more important to New Zealand than the world financial crisis? That will be one of the fundamental questions to be asked at the University of Otago's 44th Foreign Policy School next month.

One of the school's directors, Associate Professor Hugh Campbell, who is also Director of the Centre for the Study of Agriculture, Food and Environment (CSAFE), says that, while the global focus is currently on interest rates and the financial sector, the world food crisis may actually loom much larger for New Zealand.

"New Zealand is proportionally the largest food exporter in the world. Over 90 per cent of the food we produce is exported - that is how we generate our wealth as a country," he says.

"The world food crisis raises questions about global trade negotiations and the push towards a free market in food.

"It is also asks questions about whether a large integrated global food market has priced food out of the range of poor people around the world. What has happened over the last two years is that tens of millions of people globally suddenly couldn't afford food."

Associate Professor Campbell says most of our primary industries produce food for elite food producers and consumers, but we need to examine what the world food crisis means for New Zealand - both in terms of agricultural and trade policy, as well as for other interest groups and NGOs.

The 44th Foreign Policy School will also look at whether New Zealand has a regional responsibility in terms of food security and consider issues of environmental sustainability, climate change, food miles, energy expenditure in food production and water use.

Associate Professor Campbell says it basically comes down to "what is a sustainable diet for planet earth?".

A group of exceptional speakers has been lined up for the Foreign Policy School including:

Robert Watson - Former Associate Director for Environment in the Clinton White House and arguably the highest profile speaker at the 2009 School. He is now Chief Scientific Advisor in the Department of Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs and was the former Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He will talk about the future direction of global agriculture based on his work as the Chair of the IAASTD - the UN's 2008 assessment of global agriculture.

Professor Tim Lang - From the Centre for Food Policy, City University London. Professor Lang is probably best known for popularising the concept of food miles. He will give a video presentation addressing the issue of how to develop a more sustainable diet. Should we look at removing meat from our diet? Should we focus on buying local rather than imported foods? And could eating seasonal foods be a way of reducing the amount of energy used in food production?

Professor Jules Pretty - From the University of Essex, Professor Pretty is a leading authority on the sustainability of agricultural production and the environmental impact of agricultural intensification. He has strong ideas on how to improve production while improving the environment of the farm and the surrounding area. He will contribute to the Foreign Policy School's discussion of the potential to meet the global demand for food in a sustainable way.

Claire Mahon - Joint co-coordinator of the Project on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human rights. She is a strong advocate for the principle of having enough food, but also having healthy food - as a basic human right.

The University of Otago's 44th Foreign Policy School will be held from Friday 26 June to Sunday 28 June at Salmond College in Dunedin.

For more information, contact

Dr Chris Rosin
Centre for the Study of Agriculture Food and Environment (CSAFE)
Tel 64 3 479 5230

Associate Professor Hugh Campbell
Centre for the Study of Agriculture Food and Environment (CSAFE)
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 8749

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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