JOHANNESBURG/ROME, 30 August - More political will and financial resources are urgently needed to address hunger and malnutrition as the root cause of extreme poverty, said Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in his statement delivered to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.

"Some 800 million people are currently suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Most live in the developing countries and are constantly up against the degradation of their natural resources and their environment. Their institutions are weak. They lack infrastructure, especially markets. They have inadequate technologies," Dr. Diouf said.

The number of undernourished needs to fall by more than 22 million each year if the objective of the World Food Summit of reducing the number of hungry by half by 2015 is to be achieved.

"It is in fact up to the governments to ensure food security at national level, acting in concert with civil society and the private sector and receiving support from the international community," Dr. Diouf said.

"Governments, international organisations and financing institutions need to use their resources effectively to improve their performance and to step up their cooperation, working as one to overcome hunger and to consolidate the primary role of sustainable agriculture and rural development in food security."

The FAO Director-General emphasized that "the fight against hunger and poverty will come to nothing unless we make sure that women, especially rural women, are placed at the heart of the process."

He noted that the goals of the WSSD reflect those of the World Food Summit: five years later held in Rome in June this year. A costed Anti-Hunger Programme drawn up by FAO mainly corresponds to the agriculture component of the UN Secretary-Generals' WEHAB Initiative (water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity).

The Anti-Hunger Programme calls for additional national and international investment for agricultural productivity in poor rural communities, development and conservation of natural resources, expansion of rural infrastructure and market access, and the generation and dissemination of knowledge as well as action to ensure access to food for the most needy. These expenditures would "translate into rapid and substantial reductions in hunger and extreme poverty," the FAO Director-General said.

The Anti-Hunger Programme envisages an additional annual public investment of some $24 billion. This includes $5 billion to provide food assistance to the most needy as well as around $3 billion for credits at market interest rates. Around $16 billion would be required for agricultural and rural development. This component should be equally shared between developed and developing countries.

"Realizing the reduction of the number of hungry people by half by 2015 would boost the global economy by an estimated US$120 billion per year," Dr. Diouf added.

"I hope that, over the next 5 years, the process started here in Johannesburg will prompt concrete and measurable improvements in the implementation of Agenda 21 and in the realization of the objectives of the Millennium Declaration," Dr. Diouf said.