ROME, 4 June 2002 -- "Fighting hunger is not only a moral imperative, it also brings large economic benefits," the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today, proposing a new global "Anti-Hunger Programme" on the eve of the World Food Summit: five years later, which will be held in Rome on 10-13 June.

An additional public investment of US$24 billion annually must be made in poor countries to halve the number of hungry people by the year 2015, FAO said.

Without this investment, FAO fears that there would still be 600 million hungry people in 2015. Hence, the target of halving the number of hungry people from 800 to 400 million set by the World Food Summit in 1996 would not be reached. FAO stressed that the public investment should be accompanied by sufficient private resources.

Halving hunger is expected to yield additional benefits worth at least US$120 billion a year, resulting from longer and healthier lives for all those benefiting from such improvements, according to the "Anti-Hunger Programme."

Almost one person in seven does not have enough food to eat, FAO said. Most of the hungry people live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Heads of State and Government, international agencies and nongovernmental organizations will meet in Rome for the World Food Summit: five years later, to take stock of progress made towards ending hunger and to identify ways to accelerate the process.

More rapid progress in cutting chronic hunger in developing countries is possible if the political will can be mobilised. Enough is known about how to fight hunger, the FAO report said.

The "Anti-Hunger Programme" combines investment in agriculture and rural development with measures to enhance direct and immediate access to food for the most seriously undernourished. It focuses mainly on small farmers and aims to create more opportunities for rural people, representing 70 percent of the poor, to improve their livelihoods on a sustainable basis.

In particular, the FAO Anti-Hunger investment package includes:

- Start-up a process of on-farm innovation in poor rural communities. This would mobilise capital for raising farm productivity through investments in seeds, fertilisers, small irrigation pumps, school gardens and legal services to broaden access to land. A plausible target is to benefit 60 million households worldwide by 2015 through a start-up capital of US$500 per family, on average. The total cost would be US$2.3 billion per year.

- Development and conservation of natural resources. Additional investment should be made in irrigation systems, in the conservation and use of plant genetic resources and aquatic ecosystems. More funding is also needed to ensure that the world's fisheries and forests are used in a sustainable way. Estimated costs are US$7.4 billion per year.

- Expansion of rural infrastructure. High priority should be given to upgrading basic infrastructure, such as rural roads, to stimulate private sector investment. Investment is also needed to assure food quality and safety, to prevent the spread of transboundary livestock diseases and to develop food handling, processing, distribution and marketing enterprises by promoting small farmers' cooperatives and associations. The additional public investment is estimated at $7.8 billion annually.

- Improvements in international and national agricultural research, extension, education and communication are estimated to cost $1.1 billion per year.

- Programmes for enhancing access to food for the most needy, through school meals, feeding of pregnant and nursing mothers and children under five and food-for-work programmes. These activities would target the more than 200 million neediest people in the world. The cost would be US$5.2 billion per year, of which US$1.2 billion is needed for a school feeding programme.

Unfortunately, there has been a drastic decline in Official DevelopmentAssistance (ODA) to agriculture in the 1990s, FAO said. In real terms the decrease was over 30 percent between 1990 and 1999 in concessional assistance to agriculture and rural development, a trend that urgently needs to be reversed.

The UN agency proposed that additional public investments for agriculture and rural development should, on average, be equally shared between developed and developing countries. The share of the countries with higher prevalence of hunger should be lower.

This would imply a doubling of ODA to agriculture and rural development, from roughly US$8 billion in 1999 to US$16 billion per year. Developing countries would have to increase their budgets for agriculture on average by 20 percent.

FAO said that new and innovative forms of finance should be considered for the "Anti-Hunger Programme." For example, some of the resources saved through trade liberalization and reduced subsidies for agriculture in developed countries "could be channelled in the form of development assistance to promote agriculture and rural development in developing countries."

In addition, FAO suggested that existing consumer taxes on processed tropical products in a number of OECD countries could be channelled back as development aid targeted to the poor in those countries from which these products originate.

"Success of the Anti-Hunger Programme is more than a matter of simply committing funds," FAO said. The programme would only be successful if the necessary political, social and economic enabling environment is created. "Sufficient private investment will have to accompany public investment."