Agricultural leaders from 20 countries met in St. Louis on Tuesday to find out ways to feed a booming world population, agreeing that the problem will not be solved by simply growing more food.
"The problem in the world is not a lack of food. It's a lack of rent; it's a lack of wages," said Marcos Jank, president of the Brazilian Institute for International Trade Negotiations.
The biannual World Agricultural Forum brings together agricultural representatives from government agencies, corporations and academia.
Several speakers said governments will have to work harder to smooth global trade.
"One of the untold truths about globalization is that social justice has become a practical necessity," said John Gummer, the former minister of agriculture for the United Kingdom. "If the poor feel they are bearing the cost (of global trade), quite frankly they won't do it."
Gummer and others at the conference were particularly critical of agricultural subsidies that rich nations like Britain and the United States dole out to their farmers. While the subsidies might prop up domestic farmers, they also dump artificially cheap crops on the world market that makes it impossible for small farmers to compete, critics said.
"All we need is a good market to absorb our products," said Hilary Onek, minister of agriculture, animal industries and fisheries for Uganda.
The forum was founded in 1997 to spur just such discussions, said Kathleen Moldthan, the group's executive vice president. Moldthan said the meeting is a rare chance for agricultural experts in rich and poor countries to have open discussions on contentious issues like subsidies.
The meeting will continue through Thursday evening, with discussions on topics ranging from crop-based fuels to preserving the world's water supply.