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Press Release 01/69


Stockholm, 15 October 2001 - In the 1990s the number of hungry people declined by 6 million a year on average, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced today. At this rate it would take 60 years to reduce the number of hungry people in the world to 400 million, the target the 1996 World Food Summit had committed to reach not later than the year 2015. In its annual Food Insecurity Report, FAO said, "Clearly, there has been a slowdown in the reduction of undernourishment in the world."

According to the report, to achieve the World Food Summit goal of halving the number undernourished in developing countries by 2015, the average annual decrease required is no longer 20 million but 22 million - well above the current level of performance.

FAO's latest estimates indicate that, in 1997-99, there were 815 million undernourished people in the world: 777 million in developing countries, 27 million in countries transitioning to market economies and 11 million in industrialized countries.

FAO Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Department, Hartwig de Haen said, "FAO is particularly concerned that undernutrition among children could worsen due to various factors, including poor economic prospects and HIV/AIDS. We estimate that at least 180 million children under 10 years of age are part of the 777 million people estimated to be chronically undernourished in the developing world." Hartwig de Haen's comments came at a media briefing to release the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2001 (SOFI 2001).

The overall decline in the number of undernourished in the developing regions hides contrasting trends in different countries, the report said. "Only 32 of the 99 developing countries studied recorded a decrease in the number of undernourished people between 1990-92 and 1997-99." In these 32 countries, 116 million people were moved out the ranks of the undernourished. But, the number either did not fall or actually increased in the other developing countries. The total increase was 77 million people.

The report explains, "Because the first group includes several large countries, such as China, Indonesia and Thailand in Asia, Nigeria in Africa and Brazil in Latin America, the total reduction achieved outweighed the total increase in the second, a numerically larger group of countries. Hence the net reduction of 39 million."

Among the developing countries the report examines, two extremes in performance emerge. China, a country that achieved stunning economic and agricultural growth in the 1990s reduced its number of hungry people by 76 million. On the other hand, the Democratic Republic of Congo, a potentially very rich country, saw its number of undernourished grow by 17 million between 1990-92 and 1997-99, out of an estimated total population of 48 million people in the latter period.

However, the report cautions, "Despite China's good performance, the country is still home to the world's second largest number of undernourished people after India."

The report notes that the "remarkable growth in food availability achieved in the developing countries more than halved the proportion of undernourished in the total population from 37 percent in the late 1960s to 17 percent at the end of the last century." However, the decrease was not sufficient to halve the actual number of undernourished in the developing world, estimated at 956 million in 1969-71 and now as high as 777 million in 1997-99, FAO's latest three-year average estimate.

While saying that world food production must continue to grow to meet the Summit target, the report notes that "a smaller increase in production would suffice if its growth were accompanied by more equitable access to food. This could be achieved through redistribution - of food itself, of the means of producing it or of the purchasing power needed to buy it -- to those currently on the lower rungs of the food access ladder." Unfortunately, the experience of the past thirty years shows no significant decline in inequity of access among households in most countries.

The report stresses that countries which performed best in terms of reducing undernourishment had realized significantly higher investment and productivity in agriculture than others. Although particularly depending on agriculture as the principal source of livelihood of the poor, the worst performers even failed to prevent a decline in the capital stock per agricultural worker during the 1990s. This was compounded by a steep decline in the flow of external assistance to their agriculture.

In a chapter on action against undernutrition and poverty, FAO urges a two-prong approach that would go a long way toward reducing the number of hungry: direct and immediate public action targeting the hungry should complement investment in agricultural and rural development. Examples given for the first prong include food assistance to those who need it most and provision of ready access to safe drinking water. Examples for the second include investment in research and development of productive and well-adapted crop varieties and their dissemination and establishment of improved fish safety and quality systems, particularly in Africa.

Commenting on the way ahead, the report says, "there is no single formula to follow" to reduce hunger. "What each country actually needs to do will depend on specific national circumstances. With the World Food Summit: five years later less than three weeks away, Mr. de Haen said, "It would in fact be very appropriate if all countries were to set their own national targets for halving undernourishment by 2015."

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For further information, please contact FAO Media Relations tel. +39.06.57053625, or Anna Shen in Stockholm tel.: +39 340 671 7461. Christina Engfeldt, Director of FAO Information Division, can be reached in Stockholm on mobile telephone number +39 348 2572915.

Video footage of two aspects of SOFI 2001, an innovative HIV/AIDS awareness project in Cambodia, and a fishing rehabilitation project in Southern Mozambique, is available in Beta SP.

SOFI 2001 is available on the FAO Web site at the following URL:

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