As people gather around the world to celebrate World Food Day, marking the 56th anniversary of the founding of FAO, I am disappointed that it is not a day of celebration for everyone. Almost 800 million people in the developing world remain locked in a desperate cycle of hunger and poverty. To reduce those numbers I believe we must acknowledge the intricate connection between the two problems. While hunger is a consequence of poverty, the opposite is also true: Hunger causes poverty.
That is the reason why the theme "Fight Hunger to Reduce Poverty" has been chosen for this year's World Food Day observances. I firmly believe that fighting hunger is our moral obligation. But I also contend that unless we ensure this most basic human right, there can be no real and lasting progress in the struggle against poverty.
Unfortunately, while the global community has made a serious undertaking to focus on the world's poor, it has so far failed to attach sufficient importance to fighting against hunger. That must change. Undernourishment not only debilitates people, it weakens nations. Mothers who do not have enough to eat give birth to underweight babies, whose health and growth may be compromised for the rest of their lives. Children who go to bed hungry cannot fight off disease or infection, nor can they concentrate properly at school, losing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to escape the hunger-poverty trap. Undernourished adults are slower and less productive at work as their bodies conserve what little strength they have. A nation of hungry individuals cannot grow and prosper.
One recent study found that if developing countries with a high rate of undernourishment had increased food intake to an adequate level, their gross domestic product over the past 30 years would have risen by as much as 45 percent.
I am not suggesting that we should fight hunger simply because it makes economic sense. That would ignore the fact that all people have a fundamental human right to be free from hunger. But I believe it is important to recognize that hunger deserves at least the same attention as poverty when we look at global development priorities. And sadly, at the dawn of the third millennium, we are still far from ensuring that all people on the planet have enough to eat, when and where they need it.
Five years ago world leaders met in Rome at the World Food Summit to pledge a solemn commitment to halve the number of hungry people from 800 million to 400 million by the year 2015. Although there are some countries that have made enormous strides in reducing hunger and poverty, the target set five years ago remains far away. The answer does not simply lie in boosting agricultural production. Ironically, the world now has enough food to feed every man, woman and child on the globe. If all the food produced in the world were to be shared equally among its inhabitants, every living person would have a daily intake of 2 760 calories, more than enough to lead a healthy and productive life.
We all know that the reality is very different, and that for reasons of production, access and distribution, there are vast and unacceptable divides between those who have access to resources and those who do not. But those imbalances can be addressed. It will mean putting more focus, efforts and resources into rural areas, where 70 percent of the world's poor and hungry people live. To improve access to food and income, rural areas need investments in health care, education, communications and infrastructure. That will require financing institutions, donors and national governments to channel more investment to agriculture. Instead, official development assistance to agriculture continues to drop. However, I am happy to note that as a result of the last G-8 Summit in Genoa, Italy last July, support to agriculture as a key element of Official Development Assistance as well as food security and rural development will be given emphasis at the core of poverty eradication strategies.
I strongly believe that the notion of food for all is not an impossible dream, and that the target set in1996 can still be met. When governments come to Italy in November for the World Food Summit: five years later, they will be asked to ensure that the promises they made were not empty ones. They will also be reminded that to make a world free from hunger a reality, they will need to commit the necessary resources and political will.
On this World Food Day, I ask everyone - world leaders, civil society organizations, development partners, private corporations, donors and the entire global community - to remember that wherever there are people who are chronically undernourished, there can be no hope for a world without poverty. We must tackle both problems, and the time to fight hunger and reduce poverty is now.