The number of hungry people in the world could soon hit a record 1 billion, despite a recent drop in food prices, the UN food aid organisation said.
The recent financial crisis, though it has helped bring global food prices down, also has led to falling trade and lower development aid, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s general director, Jacques Diouf.
As a result of the crisis, an additional 104 million people were likely to go hungry this year – meaning they receive fewer than 7 500 kilojoules a day, Diouf told reporters after a two-day meeting in Paris between the FAO and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
"We have never seen so many hungry people in the world," Diouf said. The number of people considered hungry increased last year as well, by 40 million, and in 2007, when 75 million more people joined the ranks, Diouf said.
If the projection for 2009 proves accurate, that would mean that about 1 billion people – or roughly one-sixth of the world’s population – will hungry by the end of the year, he said.
Basic staple food still pricey
"Food security is a matter of peace and security in the world," he said, stressing that the food production will have to double by 2050 just to keep pace with population growth.
Despite a 30% drop in food prices from June 2008, overall food prices still remain above 2006 levels, Diouf said. In the developing world, however, food prices have dropped only 12-14% since June 2008, he said.
Surveys show that prices of basic staple foods in many poor countries have barely registered any drop. Higher food prices spurred a 12-13 percent increase in production in wealthy countries. But developing countries - excluding giants such as China, Brazil and India – have only seen a 0.4 percent rise in food production, "which is totally offset by the increase in population", Diouf said.
Systemic problems – such as weak infrastructure and dependence on rain – are to blame for poor nations’ near-stagnant production. 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, Diouf said.
He and other experts called a greater percentage of development aid to poor countries to be spent on agriculture. Following the so-called Green Revolution of the 1970s – during which crop yields and food production skyrocketed – aid money spent on agriculture has dwindled from 17% of total aid to just 3%.
"There is no way we will solve the problem of food security in the world if we stay in this situation," Diouf said, adding "we need to go back to 17%", of development aid earmarked for agriculture. Only such a dramatic increase will prevent acute food shortages in the future, he warned. – (Sapa, May 2009)