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Towards the World Food Summit target

To put it bluntly, the state of food security in the world is not good. In each of the three previous editions of this report, the basic message has been essentially the same. Each year, we have reported a mixture of good news and bad news. The good news has been that the number of undernourished people in the developing world continues to decline. The bad news has been that the decline has been too slow, that our progress has been falling far short of the pace needed to reduce the number of hungry people by half by the year 2015 the goal set at the World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996 and echoed in the Millennium Development Goals.

This year we must report that progress has virtually ground to a halt. Our latest estimates, based on data from the years 1998-2000, put the number of undernourished people in the world at 840 million, of whom 799 million live in developing countries. That figure represents a decrease of barely 2.5 million per year over the eight years since 1990-92, the period used as the starting point for the drive launched at the World Food Summit.

If we continue at the current pace, we will reach the WFS goal more than 100 years late, closer to the year 2150 than to the year 2015. Clearly, that is simply unacceptable.

To put it another way, in order to make up for the lagging progress to date and reach the World Food Summit goal on time, we must now strive to reduce the number of hungry people by 24 million each year from now until 2015, almost exactly ten times the pace achieved over the past eight years. That is simply imperative.

"We do not have the excuse that we cannot grow enough or that we do not know enough about how to eliminate hunger."

Daunting as the task may sound, achieving this accelerated rate of progress is also eminently possible. Quite frankly, the question is not whether we can afford to invest the resources, the energy, and the political commitment required to fight hunger. Rather, we must ask whether we can afford not to do so. The answer is that we cannot.

The price we pay for this lack of progress is heavy indeed. The hungry themselves pay most immediately and most painfully. But the costs are also crippling for their communities, their countries and the global village that we all inhabit and share.

Articles in this report document the crushing cost that hunger inflicts on the millions of people who experience it, measured in stunted physical and mental development, constricted opportunities, blighted health, shortened life expectancy, premature death. To cite just one example, every year, 6 million children under the age of five die as a result of hunger and malnutrition. That is roughly equivalent to the entire population of children under five in Japan, or in France and Italy combined.

Other articles in this report demonstrate that the reduced productivity, truncated working lives and suffocated opportunities of 799 million hungry people in the developing world hamstring economic progress and fuel environ-mental degradation and conflict at the national and international levels.

Clearly, the cost of inaction is prohibitive. Fortunately, the cost of progress is both calculable and affordable. The currency most urgently needed is not dollars but commitment.

"The cost of inaction is prohibitive. The cost of progress is both calculable and affordable."

At a side event of the World Food Summit: five years later, in June 2002, the FAO Secretariat presented a draft out line for an Anti-Hunger Programme, a strategic, cost-effective framework for national and international action to reduce hunger through agricultural and rural development and wider access to food.

According to this proposal, public investment of US$24 billion a year would be enough to jump-start an accelerated campaign against hunger that could reach the WFS goal. Taken in perspective, the price tag is startlingly low, dwarfed by the more than US$300billion that the OECD nations transferred to support their own agriculture in 2001. As the economist Jeffrey Sachs has pointed out, in comparison to a global economy measured in the trillions, US$24 billion could be considered a "rounding error", representing barely five cents for every US$100 of income.

And the payoff would be impressively high. FAO has estimated that achieving the WFS goal would yield at least US$120 billion per year in benefits as a result of longer, healthier and more productive lives for several hundred million people freed from hunger.

The cost of the programme would be widely shared. Of various conceivable options, the Anti-Hunger Programme assumes that the costs would be shared equally, 50-50, between the international donor community and the developing countries themselves. On average, across all developing regions, this would require a 20 percent increase in developing countries' budgets for agricultural and rural development. For the developed countries and international financing institutions, it would represent a doubling of concessional funding to agricultural and rural development. This would restore official development assistance to the level before a steep decline in the 1990s that hit hardest in precisely those countries where hunger is most widespread, as documented in this report.

Number of undernourished in the developing world:
observed and projected ranges compared with the World Food Summit target

And what would this investment buy? The Anti-Hunger Programme outlines a twin-track approach to reduce the number of hungry people rapidly and sustainably. It would provide access to food and deliver immediate relief to those most desperately in need, more than 200 million hard-core hungry people. And it would channel investment into sustainable agriculture and rural development, elevating productivity, incomes and hope in the rural areas in the developing world where more than three-quarters of the world's poor and hungry people live. The proposal also suggests key elements of a policy framework that would maximize the impact of these investments by inducing complementary flows of private investment and enabling the poor and hungry to realize their full development potential.

We do not have the excuse that we cannot grow enough or that we do not know enough about how to eliminate hunger. What remains to be proven is that we care enough, that our expressions of concern in international fora are more than rhetoric, that we will no longer accept and ignore the suffering of 840 million hungry people in the world or the daily death toll of 25000 victims of hunger and poverty.

We already produce more than enough food to provide an adequate diet for everyone. The Plan of Action of the 1996 World Food Summit set out clearly what needs to be done. The Anti-Hunger Programme suggests practical, affordable measures for translating the Plan of Action's sound concepts and worthy principles into immediate, effective action.

There can be no excuse for further delay. Hunger can be defeated. But only if we demonstrate our commitment by mobilizing a concerted and adequately financed campaign. Governments, the international community, civil society and non-governmental organizations and the private sector have to work together, as an international alliance against hunger, to ensure that all people enjoy the most fundamental of human rights - the right to food that is essential to their very survival and existence.

Jacques Diouf
FAO Director-General

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