What Next? Specialized Agency Chiefs Look Ahead

Article excerpt

The Food and Agriculture Organization

The right to food is the most fundamental of human rights. Throughout history chronic hunger, whether caused by war, drought, poverty or natural disaster, has led to widespread suffering, and freedom from hunger remains a long-cherished goal. Alongside peace, hunger is the most pressing of all issues.

There must be two principal components in any strategy to eradicate hunger. One is to increase food production in order to feed an expanding world population. The second is to alleviate poverty at least to the point where every person has access to the food they need for a healthy life.

While the Food and Agriculture Organization concentrates on helping to ensure sustainable expansion of agricultural production and productivity, we also promote the concept that, where feasible, a greater emphasis by developing nations on the agriculture sector can make a powerful contribution to combating poverty. This follows from the fact that the majority of the poor in most developing countries depend on agriculture for employment and incomes. As long as this dependence continues, the growth of food production and of agricultural productivity in the countries with high concentrations of rural poverty will continue to be among the principal means of alleviating poverty and improving nutrition.

The dimensions of the hunger problem are great. In the developing countries 800 million people are chronically undernourished. Among them, 192 million children under the age of five suffer from acute or chronic protein and energy deficiencies. Hundreds of millions more suffer ailments such as retarded growth, blindness and impaired vision or goitre because their diets lack essential vitamins and minerals.

Progress has been made, both in absolute and per caput terms. For example, the figure of 800 million undernourished people mentioned above is down from 893 million in 1969-1971. It is projected to drop further to 730 million in 2010, a figure which still represents an appalling level of suffering and wasted human potential. Happily, the number of undernourished people as a percentage of total population has declined appreciably over the last two decades and is expected to continue to drop.

At present, 88 nations fall into the category of low-income food-deficit countries. Forty-four of these are in Africa, 19 in Asia and the Pacific, nine in Latin America, four in the Near East and 12 in the states of the former Soviet Union. The net food deficits of the developing countries are expected to continue to grow, and the developing countries as a whole will soon turn from being net agricultural exporters into net importers. These are alarming prospects given the difficult balance of payments situation and the unfavourable economic prospects for many developing countries.

Nothing short of a significant upgrading of the overall development performance of the lagging economies, with emphasis on a more equitable sharing of the benefits, will free the world of the most pressing food insecurity problems. The only feasible option for an early and sustainable improvement in food security is the enhancement of the productivity and production of food. The key to such gains is efficient technology, applied to the commodities that can make a difference.

The basic goal of food security is one that peoples, governments and the international community have no alternative but to address. Yet certain trends are not encouraging. Developmental commitment from bilateral and multilateral sources to developing country agriculture is declining. Between 1981 and 1992, overall amounts dropped from $12.3 billion to $8.5 billion, in constant 1980 U.S. dollars. During this period, agriculture's share of total development assistance fell from 25 per cent to 17 per cent.

I believe that now is the time to raise public awareness and to promote political commitment at the highest level for a global campaign to provide food security for all. …