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Economy has left 1 billion hungry, UN says

Aid, agricultural investment down

By Ariel David
Associated Press / October 15, 2009

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ROME - 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 1 billion, a United Nations food agency said yesterday.

Unless the trend is reversed, the goal of slashing the number of hungry people in half by 2015 will not be met, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned.

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

In 1980, 17 percent of aid contributed by donor countries went to agriculture. That share was down to 3.8 percent in 2006 and only slightly improved in the last three years, Diouf said.

The decline may have been caused by low food prices that discouraged private investment in agriculture and competition for public funds for emergency relief, debt reduction, and helping to set up institutions and improve government practices, said FAO economist David Dawe.

Agriculture may look “less sexy’’ because of its slower growth rate, but it still needs sustained investment to feed people in developing countries, Dawe said.

Soaring prices for food staples in 2007 and 2008 forced poor families to sell their meager assets and cut spending on meals, health, and education.

Although the inflated prices, which caused riots across the globe last year, have stabilized, they remain comparatively high, especially in the developing world, Diouf said.

Thirty countries now require emergency food assistance, including 20 in Africa. The most populous region, Asia and the Pacific, has the most hungry people, 642 million.