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Press Release 01/24

(5-9 NOVEMBER 2001)

Rome, 18 April 2001 - The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has urged the international community to step up the fight against hunger and chronic undernourishment. "A stronger political commitment and time-bound action are needed to improve the livelihood of around 800 million people in developing countries, many of them children, who cannot live a full life for lack of access to adequate food", FAO said in a set of policy documents published today.

The documents will be discussed by the next session of the Committee on World Food Security (Rome, 28 May-1 June 2001). The session is a preparatory meeting for the 'World Food Summit: five years later' in November. FAO has invited world leaders, the international community and civil society, to attend this global event in Rome (5-9 November 2001) to renew their commitments made in 1996 at the World Food Summit (WFS) and to translate these into practical programmes.

Projections indicate that the goal set by the Summit in 1996, of halving the number of under-nourished people by the year 2015 to 400 million, will not be achieved unless approached with renewed determination.

"The simultaneous persistence of widespread extreme food deprivation and plentiful food supplies in a world with excellent means of communications and transport, can only suggest that there are fundamental flaws in the way in which nations are functioning and the relationships between them are governed and managed", FAO said.

It lies well within current technical, institutional and financial capacities to win the battle against hunger. This, however, requires that "priority action is taken to reduce hunger and develop agriculture and the rural areas". Two thirds of the poor people in developing countries are living in rural areas. Small farmers' families are usually amongst the poorest and least nourished.

Chronic hunger is both a cause and effect of poverty, the paper states. "As long as people - whether adults or young children - are hungry, their response to development opportunities is bound to be inhibited. In most economies the presence of widespread hunger stunts the potential for national economic growth." Only if people have enough to eat, will they be able to work and generate wealth, FAO said.

Since the WFS in 1996, there is no evidence of a rise in international or domestic resources for agricultural development, according to the report. Instead, Official Development Assistance for agriculture has fallen steadily, according to the document. "At the same time, a number of the most food insecure countries, while failing to mobilise resources for reducing hunger, have managed to increase their military expenditure."

Both developing and developed countries seem to be unwilling, in spite of the commitments made five years ago, to set aside sufficient resources to eradicate hunger, according to report. Relatively modest investments, combined with simple technology changes, can raise small farmer productivity, improve food security and reduce poverty, FAO said.

The countries that are recognising the critical role that the rural sector has to play in economic development, remain exceptions. Urban biased policies still prevail while the rural sector is too often neglected. As a success story, the report mentions Thailand, where malnutrition and poverty fell dramatically during the 1980s. Thailand's success was based on its investment in human capital and encouragement of local participation and self-reliance through village development projects, improved coverage of minimum services for rural communities and an increase in food production, linked to nutrition education.

Following the WFS in 1996, very few governments took large-scale action, with the engagement of Civil Society Organisations, to fight hunger, the UN agency said.

"There is also a real risk that the very success of the agricultural revolution of the last century and the current general adequacy of world food supplies may encourage widespread indifference towards the need for urgent solutions to chronic hunger," the paper said.

International summits by the influential G-7/8 and G-77 countries rarely addressed so far the hunger problem, FAO added. International institutions have not included hunger reduction as a central element in their development objectives.

FAO called upon developed countries to open their markets, especially for the agricultural exports of developing countries, to reduce dumping and to share technology.

"The purpose of inviting governments is to give new impetus to worldwide efforts on behalf of hungry people," says FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. "We must raise both the political will and the financial resources to fight hunger. The international community has repeatedly declared that it is dedicated to the eradication of poverty. Eliminating hunger is a vital first step. We cannot assume that hunger will disappear as a by-product of poverty elimination. A sharper focus on hunger and agricultural development is needed within the broader objective of poverty reduction."

The fight against hunger is in the self-interest of all countries, because hunger and extreme deprivation can threaten peace and security, FAO said. "Local conflicts over scarce resources can quickly spread into regional conflicts with massive destabilisation, preventing any serious consideration of long-term food security issues in the affected countries."

The WFS goal is not too ambitious and remains attainable, FAO said. "The lead must come from the families, communities and countries where food insecurity is deepest, but their efforts must be matched with reciprocal resource commitments by the international community."

The 'World Food Summit: five years later' will take place within the biennial FAO Conference, which has been monitoring progress toward the World Food Summit goal. World leaders will be invited to outline the measures through which the goal can be achieved, and make proposals on how to accelerate progress. They are also expected to consider how incremental resources can be mobilised and invested in agricultural and rural development could help reduce the number of people suffering from hunger and poverty.

The agreements forged at the 1996 Summit - the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and World Food Summit Plan of Action ( - will not be reopened for discussion. Instead, Heads of State or Government will be asked to reaffirm their commitment to the already agreed-upon objectives.

The documents: "Fostering the Political Will to Fight Hunger", "Mobilizing Resources to Fight Hunger", and "New Challenges to the Achievements of the World Food Summit Goals" can be found at: They will be discussed at the next meeting of the Committee on World Food Security in Rome, 28 May - 1 June 2001.


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