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Executive summary

The world now produces much more food than is required to provide everyone with an adequate diet, yet 840 million people - almost one person in seven - do not have enough to eat. Most of these people live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. That hunger should still be such a massive problem in today’s world defies logical explanation. On a global scale the technology exists to enable farmers to produce an excess of food. This, combined with a rapid change in food habits, has caused obesity to become one of the fastest rising health problems in both developed and developing countries. Information systems can pinpoint where food is needed, and the means exist to move food rapidly around the globe.

The existence of hunger in a world of plenty is not just a moral outrage; it is also short-sighted from an economic viewpoint. Hungry people make poor workers, they are bad learners (if they go to school at all), they are prone to sickness and they die young. Hunger is also transmitted across generations, as underfed mothers give birth to underweight children whose potential for mental and physical activity is impaired. The productivity of individuals and the growth of entire nations are severely compromised by widespread hunger. Hunger breeds desperation, and the hungry are an easy prey to those who seek to gain power and influence through crime, force or terror, endangering national and global stability. It is, therefore, in everyone’s self-interest - rich and poor alike - to fight hunger.

There is no lack of knowledge about how to fight hunger. Nearly three-quarters of the poor in developing countries live in rural areas, and the rapid increase in urban poverty is in part explained by the decline of agriculture and the rural sector. The rural face of poverty, human misery and hunger is now well established. Many of the rural poor are subsistence farmers or landless people seeking to sell their labour. They depend on agriculture for their earnings, either directly, as producers or hired workers, or indirectly, in sectors that derive from farming. Trading, transportation and processing involve large numbers of small entrepreneurs and are necessary for agriculture but, at the same time, such entrepreneurs depend on farming activities for their survival.

Rapid progress in cutting the incidence of chronic hunger in developing countries is quite possible if political will is mobilized. A twin-track approach is required, combining the promotion of quick-response agricultural growth, led by small farmers, with targeted programmes to ensure that hungry people who have neither the capacity to produce their own food nor the means to buy it can have access to adequate supplies. The two tracks are mutually reinforcing, since programmes to enhance direct and immediate access to food offer new outlets for expanded production. Countries that have followed this approach are seeing the benefits.

A prerequisite for the success of investments under the twin-track approach is the creation of a policy environment, both internationally and nationally, that is conducive to broad-based economic growth. The creation of such a climate is the responsibility of national governments of the developing countries as well as the international community. At the international level, this implies measures to promote peace, political and economic stability as well as a trading environment, especially for agricultural commodities, that protects and promotes the development and food security interests of developing countries. Nationally, it implies the adoption of macroeconomic policies that provide the stability required to encourage savings and investment. In most cases, this will call for increased budget allocations for agricultural and rural development. Such policies emphasize broad participation in policy decision-making and implementation, combined with institutional decentralization in ways that increase the accountability of governments to their rural populations and strengthen the capacity of communities and local organizations to place effective demands on service providers. Policies that define transparent and secure rights and promote a more equitable access to natural resources, such as land, water and wild animals (including fish), contribute both to their sustainable use and to poverty reduction. Additionally, there is a need for policies that improve access by the poor, especially people living in remote areas, to knowledge and information relevant to their needs and that also empower them to share in the benefits of technological progress. Finally, mechanisms must be developed for social protection, leading to the creation of reliable safety nets for those people who are unable to meet their essential needs, including food needs, through production, purchase or traditional coping systems.

Additional public investment of an estimated US$24 billion annually, focused on poor countries with large numbers of undernourished people, would make it possible to attain the World Food Summit goal of halving hunger by 2015 on a sustainable basis. Achieving this goal, instead of the smaller reduction in the number of undernourished expected under "business as usual", is likely to yield incremental benefits worth at least US$120 billion per year as a result of longer and healthier lives for all those who gain from such improvements. The investment package includes, inter alia, an injection of start-up capital, averaging US$500 per family, for on-farm investment to raise the productivity and production of 4 to 5 million households in poor rural communities. It also covers targeted direct food assistance programmes - at a cost of $30 to $40 per person per year - for up to 200 million hard-core hungry people, many of whom are school-aged children. Other components are for the development of irrigation systems and rural roads linking farmers with markets; the conservation and sustainable management of soils, forests, fisheries and genetic resources; and agricultural research, learning and information systems.

It is suggested that the bulk of the required funding for agricultural and rural development be shared between the national government budgets of the countries where hunger is a major problem and international transfers in the form of grants and concessional loans. The implications of the proposed sharing of funds will be a doubling of concessional funding to agricultural and rural development and an overall increase in national expenditures of 20 percent for developing countries. It is not the intention of this publication to seek additional resources for any particular organization or programme.

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