The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations celebrates World Food Day each year on 16 October, the day on which the Organization was founded in 1945. The World Food Day and TeleFood theme for 2006 is "Investing in agriculture for food security".
Agriculture may have become a minor player in many industrialized economies, but it must play a starring role on the world stage if we are to bring down the curtain on hunger.
Yet foreign aid for agriculture and rural development has continued to decline. From a total of over US$9 billion per year in the early 1980s, it fell to less than US$5 billion in the late 1990s. Meanwhile, an estimated 854 million people around the world remain undernourished.
Only investment in agriculture - together with support for education and health - will turn this situation around.
Most of the world's farmers are small-scale farmers. As a group, they are the biggest investors in agriculture. They also tend to have inadequate or precarious access to food themselves. If they can make a profit with their farming, they can feed their families throughout the year and reinvest in their farms by purchasing fertilizer, better quality seed and basic equipment.
A new model for cooperation between the public and private sectors in rural development is evolving. The model includes new ways to (1) bring together producers and agribusiness, (2) establish and enforce grades and standards, (3) improve the investment climate for agriculture, and (4) provide essential public goods such as rural infrastructure.
Investment in infrastructure in rural areas, especially in water, roads, power and communications, has a crucial role in kindling agricultural growth. If countries get these conditions right, dramatic benefits to agriculture and poor rural households can be expected.