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FAO Chief Calls for $30 Billion in Agriculture Investment

The head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says the global community should spend $30 billion to help developing countries boost farm production. The call for funding comes as fears grow that the global financial crisis means that more people will go hungry in 2009.

Jacques Diouf, the director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, says the global economic crisis reduces the credit available to farmers in developing countries. That could result in growing numbers of hungry across the Asia and the Pacific.

FAO reports say number of undernourished people in the Asia and the Pacific had fallen by 40 million between 1990 and 2005.

But high commodity prices led to an addition of 41 million people suffering from chronic hunger in Asia in 2007 alone. Currently, there are an estimated 600 million hungry people in the region, and more than a billion around the world.

On Monday in Bangkok, Diouf said that although commodity prices are below last year's peaks, they remain 27 percent above the 2005 average. He says food reserves also are low, with rice stocks at "fragile" levels.

He recommends a global effort to revive agricultural production in the developing world as "the only viable way to combat hunger".

"If you look at the global problem, the first and most important element is the need to invest in agricultural production - and investing in agricultural production would require $30 billion a year," he said.

Diouf calls that a relatively small amount, which could significantly increase food security in the poorest nations.

"Before this figure was supposed to be big; but once we have seen the stimulus packages and the trillions of dollars - I don't think anybody is saying any more that it is a big figure, particularly when it is to reach 500 million small farmers around the world," he said. "It would ensure food security when we have almost one billion hungry people."

Diouf is in Bangkok for a regional FAO conference on issues such as food supplies, climate change and water scarcity.

He calls on world leaders attending this week's G20 summit in London to find ways to help developing countries that are suffering from falling trade and declining remittances from migrant workers.