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Bill Gates, FAO chief ponder anti-hunger fight

Agriculture key as hungry approach 1 billion worldwide

11 May 2009, Rome - Bill Gates co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf met in Rome today to discuss the role of agricultural development in reducing world hunger and poverty. They also addressed the longer-term challenges to agriculture, including the impact of the global economic crisis on poor countries.

"With nearly one billion people going hungry worldwide, we must act urgently, but also have the foresight necessary to make sustainable, lasting increases in agriculture," said Diouf.

"World hunger is not an option. Access to sufficient, nutritious and safe food is fundamental not only to the well-being of poor households everywhere but also to economic development, peace and security in every corner of the world," the FAO chief added.

"Our challenge is to produce food for an additional three billion people who will be living on our planet by 2050."

Common ground

In 2006, the foundation launched a programme in agricultural development in order to help small farmers overcome hunger and poverty. The programme covers four domains, including farmer productivity; market access; science and technology, and policy and statistics.

FAO currently has a direct grant from the foundation of $US 5.6 million over two years, to improve the quality and accessibility of national and sub-national statistics on food and agriculture development in 17 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The agency also collaborates as part of the implementation of a 5-year grant for $164.5 million to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an African-led organization, for its work with small farmers, and a 3-year grant for $26.8 million to Cornell University, for development of resistance to wheat rust.

FAO has also entered into an unprecedented partnership with other key players in agricultural development to boost food production in Africa. In June 2008, at the FAO High-Level Conference on World Food Security, FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with AGRA.

Investment in agriculture slipping

Aid money spent on agriculture worldwide dwindled from 17 percent of total funding to just 3 percent between 1980 and 2005, with several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa among those trailing the list. Systemic problems, including weak infrastructure and heavy dependence on rainfall, are blamed for near-stagnant production in many poor nations. Bad roads in rural areas, lack of proper food storage facilities and a lack of irrigation infrastructure continue to keep farmers in poor countries from producing more.

Adding to these long-term issues is the pressure brought on in the past year by a prolonged period of higher food prices followed by the world financial crisis. An additional 104 million people are likely to suffer from hunger this year, meaning they would receive fewer than 1 800 calories a day, according to FAO projections.

Photo: ©FAO/G. Napolitano
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf and Bill Gates.