Professor Jeffrey Sachs: More investment in agriculture could save millions from starvation and death

ROME, 12 June 2002 -- "The world has the means and the know-how to end hunger and poverty but it has lacked the ability to move from words to action," according to Professor Jeffrey Sachs, addressing the World Food Summit: five years later.

"There is absolutely no excuse for a further lack of progress in the fight against hunger and poverty," said Mr Sachs, who was recently named Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York City and serves as a special adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

For its just-launched Anti-Hunger Programme, FAO has calculated that US$24 billion is needed annually in public investment in agriculture and rural development in poor countries to reduce by half the number of hungry people - currently 800 million -- no later than 2015. To finance this, Mr Sachs said, "we in the rich countries need to put aside 5 cents out of every 100 dollars. This investment could serve to save millions of people from starvation and death.

"We went to the first World Food Summit in 1996 and decided to cut hunger by half by 2015. It is shocking to note that the official development assistance for agriculture in the 1990s fell sharply. This is a mistake," Mr Sachs added.

"If the rich countries provide important investment to agriculture and rural areas in poor countries, the poor will live, they will grow out of poverty and have a better future," he said. "So far, the rich countries have not really made the commitment to resolve the world hunger problem."

Mr Sachs said that FAO's Anti-Hunger Programme "is realistic, it shows that we can act and it lists what is needed to fight hunger. We need to increase productivity in subsistence agriculture, help farmers to use technology and improve infrastructure in rural areas. We need nutrition programmes, school meals and emergency aid for the people affected by disasters. We need better seeds that are resistant to drought and salinity, and we will need advanced biotechnology."

Mr Sachs warned that it costs money to increase productivity in agriculture, health and education and to reach the UN Millennium development goals. "Without added assistance from the rich countries, we will not make any progress. We also require leadership from poor and rich countries, from industry, non-governmental organizations and scientists."

The FAO Anti-Hunger Programme calls for a twin-track approach to fighting hunger, combining agricultural and rural development with targeted programmes to enhance access to food by the neediest people. Countries that have followed this approach are seeing the benefits, FAO said.

FAO estimated the economic benefits of reducing the number of hungry people to be at least US$120 billion per year.

The costs of the FAO programme would be equally shared by the international donor community and developing countries. This would result in a 20 percent increase in developing countries' budgets for agriculture and rural development and a doubling of ODA and non-concessional lending.

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FAO, 2002