Removing hunger

The decision of the governing council of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to change its goal from reducing hunger to its complete eradication marks a major shift in the global strategy to fight poverty.

In a recent meeting in Rome, the council felt that the world’s important challenge in the coming years would be the complete conquest of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. Though it is agreed that this should be a most basic aim for mankind, it is at once ambitious and, some might even say, impossible to achieve. Considering the enormity of the challenge, the FAO has not set a target date, but a full meeting of the organisation will soon endorse the change and formulate strategies to achieve the goal.

The Millennium Development Goal was to halve hunger by 2015. It  may not be achieved, though there was some success. The proportion of hungry people in poor countries has fallen from about 23 per cent to about 14 per cent, though the absolute numbers have shown only a slight reduction. The performance of countries has varied widely. But countries which set greater targets and made more efforts, like Brazil which adopted a Zero Hunger strategy, did better. The difference between reduction and eradication of hunger is very huge and to achieve the objective there is a need for changes in plans and activities in every field like politics, economics, science, agriculture, trade and environment. Much more food has to be produced on an environmentally sustainable basis, new technologies have to be developed, wastage and overconsumption have to be reduced, processing systems and distribution network should be improved.

The FAO has rightly felt that the goal, which involves deployment of huge financial and other resources, can not be achieved only with efforts on the part of governments. The entire civil society including the private sector will have to be involved in the initiative. Programmes formulated in individual countries, like subsistence aid for the poor, nutrition for mothers and school meals for children, will need to be in accordance with the global strategy. India’s proposed food security programme, if implemented successfully, will go a long way in achieving the global goal. One need not be cynical about a great human aspiration for a world without hunger. The world should have the will to dream it and work for it.

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