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World Food Summit to Discuss Needs, Financing

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says an extra $24 billion a year in public investments is needed in poor countries to meet the U.N.'s goal of reducing by half the number of the world's hungry people by the year 2015. The FAO appeal comes on the eve of a U.N.-sponsored World Food Summit in Rome (June 10 to 13) that will assess the progress in reducing global hunger since the first World Food Summit was held six years ago.

With 800 million people in the world today chronically hungry, and with a severe famine breaking out again across Southern Africa, there is obviously much work left to do to reduce global hunger. The Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization's North American office, Charles Reimenschneider, says progress since the first World Food Summit in 1996 has been disappointing.

"Unfortunately, we have not been as successful [as we'd hoped], and we have only been cutting about six million a year from the rolls of the hungry, by our estimates. In order to reach the goal of 400 million by 2015, we really need to be cutting about 22 million people a year, so we have got to really pick up the pace."

In order to pick up that pace, two things are essential, says FAO's director-general, Senegal's Jacques Diouf. First, the world's governments must find the political will to make war on hunger and its root cause, poverty a national priority. Second, says Mr. Diouf, governments must stop neglecting their agricultural economies, and start recognizing that you can't end hunger without productive, prosperous farmers.

"Agriculture is the livelihood of the rural people, and 70 percent of the poor people are in rural areas," stressed Mr. Diouf. "If you do not allow them to gain employment, if you do not allow them to get income, naturally, they will never get out of their poverty and their hunger. And you don't achieve that by cutting or reducing the investments in their main activity, which is agriculture."

The FAO has proposed a new anti-hunger investment project that would target the rural poor. It would finance the building of new rural roads and irrigation systems, for example, and support new school meals and food-for-work programs for the world's hungriest.

Officials of the Rome-based development agency insist that such investments can return substantial economic dividends. They predict that reducing the number of hungry people in the world by half could yield benefits of at least $120 billion a year, calculated in terms of healthier, longer-lived and more productive populations.

Delegates to the four-day World Food Summit in Rome are expected to hold fast to the 1996 summit's original hunger-reduction goal, and to focus on how the world might do a better job of meeting it.