U.N. Summit Presses Agricultural Aid for Poor Countries
Pope Benedict XVI will be among the opening speakers Monday, adding his moral authority to what U.N. officials hope will be a solid start to a new strategy to help poor countries to produce enough to feed their own.
One in six people on the planet is now hungry, U.N. officials say.
So far, helping the world's hungry has largely entailed wealthy nations sending food assistance rather than technology, irrigation help, fertilizer or high-yield seed that could assist local farmers, livestock herders and fishermen. Much of this food assistance is purchased from the wealthy nations' own farmers.
But the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which is hosting this week's gathering at its Rome headquarters, says the best way to stop hunger is to help the needy help themselves.
The three-day summit is being held at a time "when the international community recognizes it has neglected agriculture for many years," the Rome-based agency said Sunday. "Sustained investment in agriculture -- especially small-holder agriculture -- is acknowledged as the key to food security."
U.N. officials point to villages in Kenya, Pakistan and Haiti to show this is possible.
In one Kenyan village, for example, an irrigation project is credited with not only reducing hunger there, but also allowing farmers to produce enough rice to sell surplus to the U.N. World Food Agency to help feed African's hungry.
Past U.N. food summits have so far failed to meet their stated goals, including to halve the number of the world's hungry by 2015. The June 2008 summit focused on how climate change and soaring food prices were undermining food security.
A draft declaration for this week's summit would commit world leaders to increase agricultural development aid. But it does not include a 2025 deadline for eradicating hunger -- a goal sought by the United Nations. Also missing are money commitments, such as the $44 billion in yearly agricultural aid that FAO says will be needed in coming decades.
But "money alone will not solve the problem," said the international aid agency Oxfam. It suggested Sunday that the U.N. could drastically reduce the 24,000 hunger-related deaths tallied daily around the globe if it was allowed by countries to coordinate their various initiatives.
The London-based think tank International Policy Network complained that the "real causes of hunger and food insecurity" are trade restrictions. The think tank noted that, despite past summit commitments to slash the number of hungry, "there are more hungry people now than in 2002 when they held their first summit."