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by Veronica Uy
11-June-2008 Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- International donors and financial institutions should increase funding support for agricultural productivity research to address the global food crisis, the government's representative to the United Nations has said.

Ambassador Hilario Davide Jr., Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, made the call before a recent Special Meeting on the Food Crisis convened by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Davide batted for increased funding from donor institutions and countries for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

"The call of the hour includes the immediate positive/affirmative response from all concerned, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Internal Fund for Agricultural Development and development partners to the most basic need of the IRRI -- funds for research," Davide said.

"The research of the IRRI, the world's main repository of rice seeds as well as genetic and other information about rice -- the crop that feeds nearly half of the peoples of the world -- has been, unfortunately, tremendously slowed down because of cuts in funds for agricultural research," he said.

Davide cited the case of the brown plant hopper, a tiny biting fly that has caused havoc across East Asia.

"Damage to rice crops which has caused reduced production output would have been prevented if only IRRI's budget for research has not been cut or reduced," he said.

The envoy cited IRRI reports that the brown plant hopper was multiplying by the billions and chewing through rice paddies in East Asia, threatening the health and lives of many poor people.

He said China, the world's biggest rice producer, has announced that it was struggling to control the rapid spread of these insects which could destroy as much as 20 percent of a harvest.

Davide also said that although no fewer than 14 new types of genetic resistance varieties of rice have been discovered, the budget cuts prevented the IRRI from moving any further to breed these traits into widely used rice varieties.

"If money is available for research, IRRI can accomplish the task in four to seven years and save millions of people from hunger, from deaths," he said.

"I urge the UN to do something right now, and not later, to influence and muster a collective action to courageously and decisively meet the crisis with unparalleled political will -- a collective action that is powered by the spirit and virtues of coherence, cooperation and coordination," Davide said.

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