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UN Calls For More Agriculture Spending In Asia  

The United Nations Asia Pacific regional economic mission is calling for more investment in sustainable agriculture to ease the region's food security levels as the global financial crisis pushes more people in the region into poverty and hunger. A new U.N. report on food security is also pressing governments to spend more on rural development as part of recovery efforts from the current economic downturn.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, ESCAP, in a report on sustainable agriculture and food security says 40 million people have fallen into hunger and malnourishment since 2005, due in part to sharply higher food prices.

But Noeleen Heyzer, executive secretary of UNESCAP, says the global economic downturn gripping the region, now set to add more than 24 million to the ranks of the unemployed, has made the problem of food security even worse over recent months. "For millions of people across the Asia Pacific the economic crisis is not just an economic crisis - it is also a food crisis. Food prices have remained high and although it has fallen, incomes have fallen further and unemployment continues to be on the rise. The food security crisis is very much with us," he said.

The report says that in South and South-West Asia 21 per cent of the population is malnourished. It says the most acute problems are in Afghanistan, where up to one third of the people are undernourished.

In regions such as Tajikistan, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, Armenia, Sri Lanka, India and Solomon Islands, also face serious problems.

"Despite our region's enormous capacity to produce food, we are home to the largest number of food insecure (hungry) people in the world. More than 64 per cent of the world's undernourished adults and children live in this region. If you see it's around 582 million people."

The report notes children are especially vulnerable. Across Asia and the Pacific almost four million children under five years of age die each year, with almost two million due to causes related to malnutrition, poor hygiene and lack of access to safe water, and adequate sanitation.

Heyzer says the problems lie in both in the growing number of poor but also accessibility to food. Besides poverty, she says farmers are also being pressed to produce more crops for lower cost in the competitive world of the food industry.

Another issued noted in the report is the middlemen and brokers who often exploit farmers while there is a growing of loss of skills from the agriculture sector and increasing numbers move to cities seeking better wages.

The U.N. is calling on governments of the developing countries in the Asia Pacific to step up investment towards sustainable agriculture in an effort to boost productivity which has not keep pace with the rising demand for food.

The report says regional governments should regard the recent food crisis of 2008 as a "warning of things to come" and need to move towards establishing greater food security as well as boosting incomes to ensure greater social equity.