Number of world's hungry to top 1 billion this year – UN food agency

Number of world's hungry to top 1 billion this year – UN food agency

Food prices are still high in many poor countries
The number of people on the brink of starvation is set to reach a record high of 1.02 billion – or one-sixth of the global population – in 2009, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projected today.

“A dangerous mix of the global economic slowdown combined with stubbornly high food prices in many countries has pushed some 100 million more people than last year into chronic hunger and poverty,” said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, with the lower incomes and rising unemployment reducing access to food for the poor.

Charactering it as a “silent hunger crisis,” he said that it threatens world peace and security, highlighting the need for a broad consensus on eradicating global hunger.

“The present situation of world food insecurity cannot leave us indifferent,” Mr. Diouf added.

The number of hungry people is expected to grow overall by 11 per cent, FAO said, and nearly all of the world's undernourished are living in developing countries.

The urban poor will likely be hardest hit by the global recession since dropping demand for exports and slashed foreign direct investment will have a large impact on urban jobs.

But rural areas will also face difficulties, with millions of urban migrants returning to the countryside, burdening the rural poor.

FAO said that unlike previous crises, developing countries are finding it difficult to adjust to deteriorating economic conditions because the recession is affecting all parts of the world simultaneously.

In the wake of the food and fuel crises of 2006-2008, food prices still remain high in developing countries, hurting poor consumers who spend up to two-thirds of their incomes on staple foods.

Mr. Diouf said that poorer nations “must be given the development, economic and policy tools required to boost their agricultural production and productivity. Investment in agriculture must be increased because for the majority of poor countries a healthy agricultural sector is essential to overcome poverty and hunger and is a pre-requisite for overall economic growth.”

Many of the world's hungry are smallholder farms who have the potential to feed themselves and also boost global food security, said Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“To unleash this potential and reduce the number of hungry people in the world, governments, supported by the international community, need to protect core investments in agriculture so that smallholder farmers have access not only to seeds and fertilizers but to tailored technologies, infrastructure, rural finance, and markets,” he added.

For her part, Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said that the rising number of hungry people continues to wreak humanitarian havoc. “The world must pull together to ensure emergency needs are met as long term solutions are advanced,” she said.