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Major Challenges Remain for Global Food Security

While much of the publicity surrounding the global recession has focused on people losing their jobs or retirement savings, the nightmare is even more immediate for hundreds of millions of others who live at the edge of survival. They go to bed hungry.

Food relief agencies say 2008 was among the toughest for the world's less fortunate because food prices for much of the year were so high. The price of food is just one problem preventing people from getting enough to eat.

From people braving floods in Bangladesh to receive emergency food shipments, to children in North Korea with little more than a biscuit to eat, to Afghans lining up for sacks of flour - the world's hungry continue to face a difficult future.

The United Nations says nearly one billion people - one person in six - go to bed hungry each night.

Agencies monitoring the global food crisis say the challenges of 2008 will continue, exacerbated by several factors, including rising food prices.

"I brought a cup," Josette Sheeran says, "to point out that for the world's most vulnerable who often have access to this much food a day, with food prices doubling, that was cut in half," she said.

Josette Sheeran is the executive director of the United Nations' World Food Program. She spoke in Washington about the global food crisis.

A new study by the Chatham House research institute in London found global food prices actually eased significantly in the second half of 2008.

But the report warns prices could rise again because of scarcities.

Sheeran says people in developing nations suffered when food prices spiked sharply last year - such as in Malawi, where the price of maize rose by 100 percent.

She also says children are especially vulnerable - subsisting on nothing more than a bowl of rice and often working to support their families. Many of those families have only $1 a day to spend on food.

"So really our plea is to work with those most vulnerable, including the children, HIV/AIDS patients and others," she said. "To make sure they're at least getting a cup of food a day, to get through this crisis."

The Chatham House report found climate change, water scarcity, and competition for land among major factors hampering food harvesting and distribution.

Among its recommendations, the study calls for more foreign aid investment in agriculture, with a greater emphasis on small farms and teaching modernized methods of irrigation.

Sheeran says countries must end prohibitive restrictions on exports of humanitarian food relief.

Both Chatham House and the World Food Program call for greater efforts to open more markets to impoverished nations.

Despite the problems, Sheeran points to success stories.

She says China - the biggest recipient of UN food aid 18 years ago - no longer receives shipments.

And some African nations - including Malawi and Ghana - have broken what Sheeran calls the "cycle of hunger," by investing 10 percent of their budgets in agriculture.