UN warns of more food shortages without strong action

Madrid meeting takes on global food, nutrition and agriculture problems

26 January 2009, Madrid - Chiefs of key international agencies pledged today to step up commitments against hunger and malnutrition, at the opening of a Madrid meeting on Food Security for All.

The meeting is hosted and organized by the Spanish Government and co-sponsored by the United Nations. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Prime Minister Rodriguez Zapatero will co-chair tomorrow´s plenary.

Participating are UN officials and representatives of international agencies belonging to the Secretary-General's High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, along with leaders of think tanks, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. The objectives of the meeting are to raise the political profile of hunger and food security, develop new partnerships and increase resources.

"With an expected increase of 40 million in 2008, the world today has reached 963 million people who are malnourished," said Jacques Diouf, Task Force vice-chairman and FAO Director-General, at the opening session. "This signifies that right now there are almost one billion who are hungry, out of the 6.5 billion who make up the world population."

The FAO Director-General called for an investment of $30 billion per year in agriculture of developing countries to double food production by 2050 and ensure the basic right to food for all people.

"I welcome Prime Minister Zapatero's timely initiative to call this meeting to address the crucial issue of food security," said Lennart Båge, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

"Prices have fallen from their peaks in 2008, but the food crisis has not gone away. Nearly one billion people go hungry everyday and the underlying trends show that global agricultural production cannot keep up with rising demand. The world's 450 million smallholder farms can increase production, lifting millions of poor farm families out of poverty, while helping to feed the world, if they get the support and investment they need. I believe that a global partnership for agriculture and food security can help to ensure that they get it," Båge said.

"When the food crisis hit last year," said Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, "the world came together in the largest emergency response to hunger and malnutrition in human history. Now, as the financial crisis hits the hungry even harder, we must sustain these unprecedented efforts to meet the urgent food and nutritional needs of the most vulnerable people, while promoting smallholder farmers and agriculture."

She added that the WFP needs $5.2 billion in 2009 to provide food and nutrition assistance and safety net support to almost 100 million people, including smallholder farmers and 20 million children in school feeding programs.

"The risks for the world´s poor cannot be under-estimated," said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of the World Bank. "Food prices are highly volatile. Millions are malnourished. We need to draw on the experience of governments of the countries concerned, who have been dealing with the realities on the ground throughout. We have solutions and results, but funds are needed for scaling them up, to ensure that those who are most vulnerable get the assistance they need."

The High-Level Meeting on Food Security for All follows through on the June 2008 Food Summit in Rome. In the 5 June Rome Declaration, 181 States and the European Community pledged to alleviate the suffering caused by soaring food prices, stimulate agricultural development, food and smallholder farmer production and address obstacles to food access and adequate nutrition.

Photo: AFP/Pierre-Philippe Marcou
Jacques Diouf (left) shakes hand with Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Miguel Angel Moratinos.