The global food crisis is a dire reality for millions of the world's poor and a major test for the international community. Rising food prices have created tremendous pressure in the lives of poor people, for whom basic food can consume as much as two-thirds of their income.
A comprehensive global plan should include the following six elements:
First, the international community must rapidly mobilize at least $755m, identified by the World Food Programme and UN leaders as necessary for emergency food relief. The Secretary-General might want to mobilize two or three global leaders as special envoys to help the UN find these funds.
Second, we must ensure that farmers are equipped to produce the next harvest. Farmers in many areas cannot afford seeds to plant or natural gas-based fertilizer, whose price has risen along with the price of oil.. The world should respond promptly and generously to help those struggling to survive what the UN calls a "silent tsunami."
Third, beyond these immediate actions, new policies are needed to address the underlying causes of the crisis. Crop subsidies and export controls in many important countries are distorting markets and raising prices; they should be eliminated. In particular, subsidies for ethanol that made sense when oil cost $20 a barrel cannot be justified at $120 a barrel - nor can subsidies for oil. They should be phased out together when the price of oil is above a certain level.
Fourth, the current crisis should not deter the world's search for long-term global solutions to poverty and environmental protection. For example, we should continue efforts to move to second-generation fuels made from waste materials and non-food crops without displacing land used food production.
Fifth, a new "green revolution" is required to meet the global demands, more productive crops are needed, ones that are drought-resistant and salt-tolerant.
Sixth, to help fund these important initiatives, I propose that each oil-exporting country create a "poverty and agriculture fund", contributing a fixed amount - perhaps 10% - of the price of every barrel of oil exported.
The pressures of a growing and more prosperous population will not go away - demand for food and energy will grow, and the poor will suffer most.