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SOUTH ASIA: Regional food bank gets go-ahead Saturday,August 9th 2008
The concept had been on the table for some years. Now all countries have finally agreed on the formation and implementation of the SAARC Food Bank," Wais Kabir, director of the SAARC Agriculture Centre in the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka, told IRIN.

"Properly [realised], it would serve as a milestone in strengthening the existing cooperation among the nations of South Asia," he said.

His comments follow last weekend's announcement at the 15th SAARC summit in Colombo, Sri Lanka, confirming the bank's establishment as part of the organisation's long-term food security and agricultural development plans for a region of more than 1.5 billion people.

The joint projects would augment food production, invest in agriculture and related industries, conduct agricultural research, share technology, assist in procurement and distribution, as well as manage climatic and disease-related risks.

Conference leaders also called for members to forge greater cooperation with the international community in ensuring food availability and nutritional security in the region.

Food reserves

Under the terms of the agreement, the bank would act as a regional food security reserve for SAARC member countries during food shortages and emergencies, as well as provide regional support to national food security efforts, foster inter-country partnerships and regional integration, and solve regional food shortages through collective action.

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
In line with global fuel costs, food prices thoughout South Asia have risen dramatically
The bank would hold 241,580 metric tonnes (MT) in rice and wheat reserves, contributed by each SAARC member, including Bangladesh (40,000MT), Bhutan (180MT), India (153,200MT), the Maldives (200MT), Nepal (4,000MT), Pakistan (40,000MT), and Sri Lanka (4,000MT). Afghanistan's share would be decided later.

The reserves would remain the property of the individual member country and would be in addition to any national reserves.

And while no start date for the bank's opening has been announced, officials say the process will begin in a couple of months, with Sri Lanka proposing the bank's headquarters to be in Dhaka.

"This involves the construction of new food warehouses in member countries, local procurement and [the] international purchase of extra food grains, and developing an administrative system and a distribution network. So it is likely that it will take some time before operationalising the SAARC Food Bank," said Mohammad Panaullah, a senior agro-consultant to the Bangladesh government.

Initial discussions about such a bank took place 20 years ago and the plan is not without its critics. On 2 August, two civil rights organisations warned that the adoption of any unified policy on agriculture for the region on the basis of food security would ruin Bangladesh's agriculture and food production system.

"Farm sectors of South Asian countries will be hostage to multinational companies engaged in the seed business if a unified policy on agriculture is adopted for the region on the grounds of food security," Odhikar and Ubinig (Policy Research for Development Alternatives) said in a statement
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