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UN Food Agencies, World Bank Announce Rural Development Strategy - 2003-02-21

Officials from several U.N. agencies as well as the World Bank met in Rome on Friday to announce a new rural development strategy to speed up efforts to reduce the number of hungry people in the world.

Three years ago, the international community set a goal of reducing the number of hungry people in the world by 50 percent by the year 2015. Fears that the goal may not be achieved brought officials of the World Bank and U.N. food agencies to Rome Friday to discuss what needed to be done.

The director-general of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, Jacques Diouf, said if a new strategy was not adopted the risk was that the goal would be achieved only in 2150, 35 years later than originally proposed.

At the meeting in Rome, U.N. officials said that in recent years they have come to understand more clearly that greater investment is needed in rural areas, where most of the poor are located.

The president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Lennart Bage, said 75 percent of the world's poor are in rural areas. "A big majority, three-fourths, some 900 million out of the 1.2 billion poor are living in rural areas, depend largely on agriculture and related activities for their livelihood," he said. "So clearly the focus for the development agenda is very much in the rural areas, in the rural scene."

Mr. Bage added that U.N. officials and the World Bank agreed that in order to boost agricultural and rural development more collaboration was needed between international aid organizations.

The World Bank's previous rural development strategy was launched in 1997. While it had a decisive influence on global thinking, its results on the ground were disappointing. World Bank President James Wolfensohn said the Bank's new strategy would involve poor people much more directly. "It's a program that is based, very significantly, on empowerment of poor people, of working in community based development, of addressing the issues of the rights of women particularly and bringing together the technology and the social and the infra-structural elements that go along with the rural development program," he said.

The World Bank's new strategy, called "Reaching the Rural Poor," is designed to respond to the local circumstances and needs of the people who have the greatest stake in its implementation. U.N. officials are hoping that closer cooperation with the World Bank will enable them to realize the goal they set out to achieve three years ago - a 50 percent reduction in the number of hungry people in the world by the year 2015. They have only 12 years left.