A UN food agency warns declining aid and investment in agriculture caused a steady increase in world hunger for more than a decade before the economic crisis.
UN: World hunger worsening
Declining aid and investment in agriculture caused a steady increase in world hunger for more than a decade before the economic crisis pushed the ranks of the hungry to a record one billion, a United Nations food agency said today. Unless the trend is reversed, the international goal of halving the number of hungry peopleby 2015 will not be met, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 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 blame for the long-term trend rests largely on the reduced share of aid and private investments earmarked for agriculture since the mid 1980s, 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," the 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, Mr Diouf said.
The decline may have been caused by low food prices that discouraged private investment in agriculture and competition for public funds from other aid fields including emergency relief, debt reduction, and helping set up institutions and improve government practices, said a FAO economist, David Dawe. Governments and investors may also have operated under the impression that other economic sectors needed more money because agriculture's share of the economy in some developing countries dropped as people moved to cities and found work in industry, economists said.
Agriculture may look less exciting because of its slower growth rate, but it still needs sustained investment to feed people in developing countries, Mr Dawe said. Until recently, "there was still the idea that agriculture is something you move quickly out of in the course of development," said Keith Wiebe, another FAO economist. Soaring prices for food staples in 2007 and 2008 forced poor families to sell their meagre assets and cut down on meals, health and education spending. Although the inflated prices - which caused riots across the globe last year - have stabilised, they remain comparatively high, especially in the developing world, Mr Diouf said. In the meantime, the world economic crisis is increasing unemployment, reducing remittances that immigrants send back home and making it difficult for poor countries to get credit lines to buy food on the market, Mr Diouf added. Thirty countries now require emergency food assistance, including 20 in Africa.
Similarly, according to the Global Hunger Index, which was released in advance of World Food Day on October 16, the world has failed to reduce hunger over the past decades with the global financial and food crises threatening to cancel out small recent gains. "Twenty-nine countries around the world have alarming or extremely alarming levels of hunger, and 13 countries have actually seen increases in hunger levels since 1990," according to the report.
The index released by the International Food Policy Research Institute showed that Democratic Republic of Congo scored the worst, followed by Burundi, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Chad and Ethiopia. The report said that while some gains had been recorded globally, mainly in Asia, the data used to compile the index was two years old and did not fully factor in recent developments. "Rankings only partially account for the impact of food crisis and do not reflect the effects of the financial crisis," a press release said.
The index ranks 84 countries worldwide by combining three main indicators: prevalence of child malnutrition, child mortality rates and the proportion of calorie deficient people. The FAO announced in June that the number of hungry people had reached one billion, or one in six of the world's population. * AP