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22. If hunger is considered morally unacceptable and imposes such large costs on society, why has so little been done to fight it? It is argued here that this is because political will is lacking and, as a result, the resources to fight hunger have not been mobilized to the extent required. It is possible that political will is lacking because of a number of popular misperceptions about hunger: that hunger reduction involves a simple welfare transfer, that the abundance of food in the world is a sign that everyone is properly fed, or that hunger is a phenomenon associated only with emergencies and calamities. It is also likely that the economic and social costs of global hunger are often ignored or underestimated.

23. Be that as it may, lack of knowledge about how to fight hunger is not an acceptable reason for lack of action. This is not to deny the usefulness and relevance of further research on specific countries and issues, but the general lines along which action should be taken to fight hunger are reasonably clear. What is needed is a strategy for fighting hunger that recognizes the complexities of the challenge and addresses them in a forthright manner. All too often there is an attempt to deal with "the hunger problem" but not to deal with hungry people.

24. The 1996 WFS Plan of Action, after calling for "the progressive realization of the right to food", went on to lay out a comprehensive framework for fighting hunger, which stressed the need for combining agricultural and rural development with measures to broaden access to food. Evidence to date shows that several countries have successfully reduced hunger within this framework. The details can be found in successive editions of The State of Food Insecurity in the World, published annually by FAO.

25. It is hardly surprising that emphasis was given by the Plan of Action to agricultural and rural development. In developing countries, 70 to 75 percent of the poor and hungry live in rural areas. Farming is, therefore, at the heart of their livelihood strategies, as demonstrated by the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s Rural Poverty Report 2001 and reiterated by the new World Bank Rural Development Strategy. Moreover, worsening standards of living in rural areas drive desperate people to the cities, thereby exacerbating urban poverty as well. The reverse does not often happen. Hence, agricultural and rural development must play a central role in strategies to reduce hunger and poverty, not only because agriculture is a source of food but also because agriculture and rural off-farm activities provide employment and income for the rural poor. Improvements in the conditions of small-scale farmers, both women and men, are especially important since, paradoxically, they produce much of the food while accounting for a high proportion of the poor and hungry.

26. An increase in agricultural productivity opens opportunities for improving the quality of subsistence consumption and raising farm incomes. Where the resulting agricultural growth benefits small-scale farmers and rural labourers, the additional income is spent largely on food and on basic non-farm products and services in rural areas, which tend to be produced and provided locally. Non-farm enterprises offer the poor a potential escape route from poverty, since they usually require little capital or training to set up. The extra income from agricultural growth can create demand for these goods and services, creating a virtuous cycle in which agricultural and rural off-farm income grow and sustain each other’s growth - and often that of the whole economy. Such broad-based development opens up new opportunities for reducing poverty and hunger.

27. Thus, growth in agriculture and rural off-farm activities creates opportunities for the poor to raise their incomes. Yet, the extent to which they are able to take advantage of these opportunities depends on whether they are well nourished, in good health and literate. It also depends on their access to assets, technologies and credit and savings services, and on ensuring that they are not excluded by social custom or government fiat from income-earning activities. Improvements in nutrition are a prerequisite for the poor to take full advantage of the opportunities created by development. This is not to deny the importance of measures to increase the capital - human, financial, physical, natural and social - available to the poor. It is simply to say that improving nutrition comes first, not merely in order of importance but in temporal sequence.

28. In summary, a twin-track approach is required for quick success in reducing hunger and poverty. One track would create opportunities for the hungry to improve their livelihoods by promoting development, particularly agricultural and rural development, through policy reform and investments in agriculture.

29. The other track would involve direct and immediate action to fight hunger through programmes to enhance immediate access to food by the hungry, thereby increasing their productive potential and allowing them to take advantage of the opportunities offered by development. Direct action to target the hungry is also necessary because economic growth takes time to have a significant impact on hunger. Hungry people cannot wait, however, so direct and immediate action is required.

30. Rural women are key actors in both components of this comprehensive strategy. They play a vital role in generating household income and building up assets. They also play multiple roles in producing food, provisioning the household, preparing food and feeding the family. Even the poorest women possess valuable knowledge of, and skills and talents in, the management of natural resources. It is, therefore, crucial that the opportunities arising from agricultural and economic development benefit them and strengthen their capacities to acquire and utilize nutritionally adequate foods. Women must participate as full and equal partners in the fight against hunger.

31. In the next section, five priorities for action to meet the WFS goal are identified in the light of this approach and an attempt is made to estimate the cost implications of each of these priorities. The first four priorities relate to the agricultural and rural development track of the overall strategy, while the fifth relates to measures to enhance access to food.

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