08/06/2008, 00.00
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Hopes, fears over promises from association of south Asian countries

by Melani Manel Perera
At the summit in Colombo, heads of state and government leaders of member countries have promised to work together to lower food prices, combat hunger, and assist agriculture. But many observe that concrete actions are still lacking.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Favorable comments, but much skepticism toward the declaration released by heads of state and government leaders who met in Colombo on August 2 and 3 for the 15th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

At the center of the talks was the need to assure food supplies for south Asia, once considered the granary of the world. There is a willingness to confront the problem together, and to make larger investments in the agricultural sector, which so far has been overlooked in favor of industrial production and the creation of services for urban centers. The declaration also affirms the need to prevent the degradation of the soil, to develop and share agricultural technologies, to perfect provisioning and distribution. A summit of agriculture ministers has been scheduled for New Delhi in November, to discuss how to contain food prices.

But Sarba Raj Khadka, of the Secretariat of South Asian Alliance for Poverty Eradication in Nepal, observes that "at least this time the declarations should be translated into actions for the benefit of the 1.6 billion people in the South Asian Region".

Herman Kumara of Sri Lanka, secretary general of the World Forum for Fisher People, observes that "the south Asian region is the most affected by the food price crisis in the world. In India, more than 170 million people are suffering from hunger". "We cannot achieve food security in the region unless we protect the small and marginalized farmers, small scale artisanal fisher folk, forest dwellers who depend on forests, and pastoralists. The food security declaration says investments will go to the agriculture industry. But what will be done for these small producers?".

More generally, Fr Thomas Kocherry, a human rights activist in India, says "the SAARC statement on energy is very positive, provided they implement them. Wind, solar, and hydro energy are free from pollution. But land reform is also necessary".

Abdullah Khorso, media coordinator for the Pakistan Fisher Forum, is very critical, above all toward his own government, which has been unable to contain food price inflation, but also toward the other governments that are overlooking the rights of fishermen, "numerous in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan".

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