19 April 2009, Rome - International agencies on the front lines of the effort to increase food security will bring concerns on the impact of the economic crisis on small-holder farmers and on people's ability to afford food to the meeting of the Group of 8 Agriculture Ministers in the Italian province of Treviso on 18-20 April.
Dubbed "the agricultural summit", the G8 Ministers have invited the chiefs of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the coordinator of the UN Secretary-General's High-Level Task Force on Food Security to brief them on how the UN is responding to the crisis. Their work is made more urgent as the economic crisis has pushed more people into malnourishment, hunger and poverty.
"In order to feed the nearly one billion hungry people and provide for the extra three billion people coming into the world by the year 2050, the world needs political leadership and well invested resources," said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. "World leaders looking for ways to save the global economy from disaster and to create jobs and income for millions of people in rural areas would be well advised to invest heavily in agriculture."
FAO is currently engaged in over 90 countries, in most cases supporting food production with the supply of improved seeds, fertilizers, other agricultural inputs and technical assistance of around $350 million in 2008. Nearly seven million smallholder farmers and their 35 million dependents - the majority women and children - benefited directly from this support.
"This meeting of the G8 Agriculture Ministers should be an opportunity to initiate the global political process for addressing the vital challenge of world food security," Mr. Diouf, vice-chair of the Task Force, noted.
After 20 years of declining investment in agriculture, recent global summits show that the international community realizes that this sector is central to promoting wider economic growth in developing countries, said Kanayo F. Nwanze, IFAD's new President.
"But declarations don't feed poor people, actions do. At the Treviso meeting we want to ensure that the voices of poor smallholder farmers from around the world are heard and that we come away with a commitment for action," he said.
Three quarters of the world's 1.4 billion extremely poor people live in rural areas. IFAD works with and for some 500 million smallholder farmers, men and women, enabling them to feed themselves, to access markets, to cope with climate change and to catalyse economic growth in poor rural areas.
"As the financial crisis unleashes more hunger by compounding the impact of the food crisis on the world's most vulnerable, G-8 leaders must put food security at the top of their agenda," said WFP's Executive Director, Josette Sheeran. "This includes ensuring access to food for all, as well as focusing on increased agricultural production."
Last year, WFP responded to the food crisis with an unprecedented emergency scale-up, adding 30 million people to its beneficiary lists. In 2009, WFP estimates it needs to feed more than 100 million people.
As well as providing food to vulnerable populations, WFP has undertaken a number of innovative projects to deal with hunger: cash and voucher distributions, local procurement to support small-scale farmers, and school feeding programmes to encourage parents to send their children to school and keep them there.
UN Assistant Secretary-General David Nabarro, the Task Force coordinator, said in advance of the Treviso meeting that "we need to be on the look out for an increase in levels of hunger as a result of people's falling purchasing power."
"We need to be ready to help countries with their investments in smallholder agriculture," Dr. Nabarro added, "as these offer rural communities, and urban groups who have been shed from mining, manufacturing and other employment, an opportunity to stave off the worst effects of the recession."
In addition to the G8 representatives, the Treviso meeting will draw ministers of agriculture from the G5 countries - Brazil, China, Mexico, India and South Africa. Its results will be forwarded to the main G8 Heads of State summit in July, on the Italian island of La Maddalena.
The G8 is expected to follow up on its commitment on food security, made at its 2008 summit in Hokkaido, Japan. Food security was also cited as a crucial part of the response to the economic crisis at the recent G20 meeting in London.