UN-backed high-level meeting plans to reverse alarming climb in the number of hungry

16 January 2009

With the number of undernourished around the world rising to almost 1 billion in 2008, threatening one of the United Nations’ prime goals of halving global hunger by 2015, heads of State and other top leaders will gather in Madrid later this month to draw up plans to boost global food production.

The Food Security for All meeting in Madrid – co-chaired by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Prime Minister of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero – is slated for 26-27 January 2009, and brings together governments, private entities and civil society groups.

Participants are expected to start with a review of progress in achieving food security since the High-Level Conference on World Food Security in Rome last June convened in the face of soaring food prices, and go on to define a road map for the future to tackle hunger more effectively.

“Another thing that is likely to happen in Madrid is that a number of countries will indicate a long-term plan to commit more resources for agriculture and food security,” said David Nabarro, coordinator of the Secretary-General's High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, in a press briefing at UN Headquarters.

Mr. Nabarro told journalists that the increase in the number of hungry people was due to volatile food prices in 2008 with sharp increases in parts of the year, particularly in the price of rice, and because of difficulties with access to food, caused by warfare, disruptions to supplies and the impact of climate change reducing productivity in certain parts of the world.

“Agriculture itself has suffered because there has been a big reduction in investment over the last 30 years and the 420 million or so small-holder producers who farm less than about two hectares of land are facing particular difficulties,” he said.

The UN system, coordinated by High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, has taken a twin track approach to tackling global hunger.

“First, feed the hungry, making sure that the supplies of food for those who are dependent on them to survive remain satisfactory,” Mr. Nabarro explained.

The World Food Programme (WFP) had to increase its beneficiaries to about 100 million a year and increase its income dramatically by about $2 billion, meaning its 2009 budget totals $5.2 billion.

The second track of the work addresses some of the underlying structural problems in the food sector by improving agricultural development, changing the way in which trading systems work “and improving the functioning of markets for the world’s poor,” said Mr. Nabarro.

“We’ve also called for much greater attention to bio-fuels and the turning of cereal and other food stuffs into bio-fuels because we believe that that too creates an unstable situation.”

Even though commodity prices have come down substantially in recent months, Mr. Nabarro warned that “The worldwide economic crash did not put an end to the food crisis: instead, it complicates and exacerbates the situation.”

The two-day Madrid conference intends to establish a partnership for food security, made up of governments, regional bodies, civil society, businesses, international agencies, development banks and donors.


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News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

UN chief to lead meeting with Spanish Premier next month to deal with hunger crisis

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced today that he and the Prime Minister of Spain have agreed to co-chair a high-level meeting next month aimed at tackling the urgent hunger crisis afflicting one billion people worldwide.