World hunger on the rise: UN

World hunger on the rise: UN

Focus should be on increasing food production

World hunger on the rise: UN

Unless these trends are reversed, ambitious goals set by the international community to slash the number of hungry people by 2015 will not be met, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation warned in a report.

After gains in the fight against hunger in the 1980s and early 1990s, the number of undernourished people started climbing in 1995, reaching 1.02 billion this year under the combined effect of high food prices and the global financial meltdown, the agency said. The figure topped the 1 billion mark in June, and was 963 million a year ago.

The blame for the long-term trend rests largely on the reduced share of aid and private investments earmarked for agriculture over recent years, the Rome-based agency said in its State of Food Insecurity report for 2009.

“In the fight against hunger the focus should be on increasing food production,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said. “It’s common sense... that agriculture would be given the priority, but the opposite has happened.”

In 1980, 17 per cent of aid contributed by donor countries went to agriculture. That share was down to 3.8 per cent in 2006 and only slightly improved in the last three years, Diouf said in an interview with AP Television News.

The decline may have been caused by low food prices that discouraged investment in agriculture and competition for funds from aid fields including emergency relief, debt reduction and population control, said FAO economist David Dawe.

Against the backdrop of this trend, the world’s hungry were hit with a double blow recently. First, soaring prices for food staples in 2007 and 2008 forced poor families to sell their meager assets and cut down on meals, health and education spending.

Although the inflated prices have stabilised, they remain comparatively high, especially in the developing world, Diouf said. Thirty countries now require emergency food assistance, including 20 in Africa. FAO announced in June that the number of hungry people had reached 1 billion.

The world’s most populous region, Asia and the Pacific, has the largest number of hungry people — 642 million — followed by Sub-Saharan Africa with 265 million. FAO, which will host a world food summit next month, says global food output will have to increase by 70 per cent to feed a projected population of 9.1 billion in 2050.