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October 22, 2009

UN says more investment in agriculture needed to tackle world hunger

UN says more investment in agriculture needed to tackle world hunger

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

The director general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is calling for more investment in agriculture in the developing world to tackle the problem of food insecurity. Jacques Diouf told Parliamentarians attending the 121st Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union that more than one billion people are going hungry because of under-investment in agriculture during the past two decades.

Cquote1.svg Where there’s a will, there’s a way Cquote2.svg

—Jacques Diouf

A recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program finds most of the more than one billion hungry people in the world live in developing countries. It says no region is immune and hunger is expected to increase everywhere, even in the developed world.

Jacques Diouf, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, says 30 countries were in a situation of grave food crisis, requiring emergency assistance. He says 20 of them are in Africa and 10 in Asia and the Near East. “The events of the last three years, triggered by soaring food prices and followed by the financial and economic turmoil, have demonstrated how fragile our global food system is. This year’s increase in hunger is not the result of poor harvests or a shortfall in supplies, but rather is caused by the economic crisis which has reduced the incomes and job opportunities for the poor,” he said.

Diouf says under-investment in agriculture and rural development is one of the root causes of the recent global food crisis and the difficulties encountered by the majority of developing countries in dealing with it effectively.

“If people go hungry today it is not because the world is not producing enough food but because it is not produced in the countries where 70 percent of the world’s poor live and whose livelihoods depend on farming activities. The challenge is not only to ensure food security for the one billion hungry people today, which is certainly an enormous task, but also to be able to feed a world population that is expected to reach 9.1 billion in 2050,” he said. He has urged nations to increase food production by 70 percent by 2050, and remarked that “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

The FAO chief says studies show GDP growth originating in agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as GDP growth originating in other sectors of the economy. He says the solution to food insecurity lies in boosting agricultural production and productivity in poor countries where food shortages are chronic.

Diouf says production has to be increased in the most needy areas, by the most needy people. These are smallholder farmers in rural households.

He says investment in agriculture in developing countries would amount to $44 billion in official development assistance a year. He says the returns from that investment in tackling world hunger would be enormous.



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June 23, 2009

UN: World hunger at all-time high due to economic slowdown

UN: World hunger at all-time high due to economic slowdown

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Countries by percentile of population suffering from undernourishment. Data from the FAO’s 2006 hunger report.

The number of hungry people in the world is projected to reach an all-time high of 1.02 billion this year, according to a report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The report blames this latest spike in world hunger chiefly on the global economic recession, which has increased unemployment and reduced incomes among the poor, leading to greater food insecurity.

The report, published on Friday, estimates that over 1 billion people will go hungry each day in 2009, a first in human history. This is a significant increase over last year’s estimate of 915 million hungry people. According to the FAO, this increase of around 100 million people is not a result of poor harvests, as in the past, but rather a poor economy.

“A dangerous mix of the global economic slowdown combined with stubbornly high food prices in many countries has pushed some 100 million more people than last year into chronic hunger and poverty,” said Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the FAO. “The silent hunger crisis — affecting one sixth of all of humanity — poses a serious risk for world peace and security.”

Although food prices have declined from their record high levels in mid-2008, the report states that global food prices are still high compared to previous years, and that domestic prices remain prohibitively high in developing countries. In Mauritania, for example, a staple food such as wheat still costs over 600 USD per tonne, whereas in the United States the price has fallen below 300 USD.

Cquote1.svg The silent hunger crisis — affecting one sixth of all of humanity — poses a serious risk for world peace and security. Cquote2.svg

—Jacques Diouf, FAO Director-General

The current economic situation has intensified the problem created by high food prices. Many sources of income for developing countries, including remittances, foreign direct investment, foreign aid, and international trade, are expected to undergo severe declines. In addition, because of the global nature of the economic crisis, previously-used mechanisms such as currency depreciation and borrowing from international credit markets are more limited in their scope, according to the FAO.

In developing countries, the report says, the urban poor are likely to be most affected by the economic slowdown, as their ability to find work is most dependent on factors like foreign investment and export demand. However, rural areas could also be affected, as an urban back-migration to the farms would put more pressure on an already strained rural job market. Budget constraints would lead families to purchase more grain products, which are cheaper than meat, dairy products, and other foods rich in protein. The result of such diet changes is often malnutrition.

Investment in agriculture, according to Director-General Diouf, is the key to overcoming poverty and hunger in poorer countries. These countries “must be given the development, economic and policy tools required to boost their agricultural production and productivity”, he said.

Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, says that investment in agriculture is not only essential for overcoming hunger, but also for promoting economic growth in developing countries. “To unleash this potential and reduce the number of hungry people in the world,” he said, the international community must ensure that farmers “have access not only to seeds and fertilisers but to tailored technologies, infrastructure, rural finance, and markets.”

However, the economic slowdown has forced the UN’s World Food Programme to shut down some of its operations, as it receives less financial aid from donor countries. Out of a required yearly budget of 6.4 billion USD, the agency currently has less than one-fourth of that amount.



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June 6, 2008

UN summit results in pledge to mitigate food crisis

UN summit results in pledge to mitigate food crisis

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Friday, June 6, 2008

A three-day United Nations (UN) summit, bringing together leaders from 181 countries, has wrapped up with a pledge by all attending countries to address the global food shortage crisis. Key actions cited include doubling the world’s food production by 2030, providing resources for farmers in poor countries and increasing humanitarian aid in times of crisis.

Protests and violent riots have resulted in parts of the world in recent months due to increasing unaffordability, and sometimes unavailability, of food. It is estimated that 862 million people, or just over one eighth of the world’s population, are malnourished.

According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, up to US$20 billion will be required annually to avert crises in the most hard-hit areas. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has put the figure closer to US$30 billion. Pledges made just at the summit amounted to more than US$5 billion, according to the UN.

Despite the largely positively-received outcome of the summit, held in Rome, Italy, there were some who felt that the proceedings could have gone better. Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) pointed to the fact that they were not invited to partake in the discussions. Food and hunger policy adviser Magda Kropiwnicka of ActionAid commented on the strength of the final pledge: “There were no quantifiable financial commitments. Apart from the existing UN Food and Agriculture Organisation funds, no money has been given to address the key problem of boosting capacity.”

While most delegates agreed that biofuels have been one of the causes of the food crisis, no actions were agreed upon to address this hot topic. Biofuels have been increasingly in demand in recent years, meaning that many crops that would have previously been used for food are now being used as fuel.

The impact that biofuels has goes further than simply increasing the demand of food crops. As fuel prices increase, so do the costs of fertilisers, farm vehicle use and the transport of foods. All of this adds up to a large increase in the cost of food.

Some UN officials say that biofuel use has caused up to 30% of the global food price inflation of late. The United States estimates that figure to be closer to just 3%. The Globe and Mail newspaper indicates that some estimates go as high as 60%. The only consensus that could be reached on biofuels is that they provide both “challenges and opportunities”, and need to be looked into further for a conclusive analysis on their impact on food production.

Other factors increasing food prices are increased consumption of meat and dairy products in developing nations like China and India. Argentina noted that subsidies granted to farmers from the US, the European Union and other Western countries have also been a major player in the increase.



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June 5, 2008

U.S. Navy forced to give up on Burma relief

U.S. Navy forced to give up on Burma relief

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Cyclone Nargis
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The United States Navy was forced to withdraw from its Cyclone Nargis relief efforts in Burma/Myanmar today due to the continued refusal of the ruling State Peace and Development Council government to allow the delivery of aid. Four U.S. naval ships were ordered to depart from the area on Thursday. After 15 failed attempts to convince the ruling military junta to allow U.S. helicopters to deliver much needed supplies to areas such as the Irrawaddy Delta, Admiral Timothy J. Keating, the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, indicated that they were left with no choice but to leave.

“I am both saddened and frustrated to know that we have been in a position to help ease the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people … but have been unable to do so because of the unrelenting positions of the Burma military junta,” Keating said via his headquarters. He said that the U.S. would still be willing to offer help if the junta simply allowed them in.

The British and French navies have also been forced to withdraw due to the junta’s unwillingness to allow them to provide assistance to cyclone victims. United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had been previously assured by the ruling Burmese generals that relief workers would be allowed to help, but reports indicate this has still not happened on the ground. The UN, in its latest report on the situation, noted that Burma was faced with a “serious lack of sustained humanitarian assistance for the affected populations.”

Cquote1.svg I am both saddened and frustrated to know that we have been in a position to help ease the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people . . . but have been unable to do so because of the unrelenting positions of the Burma military junta Cquote2.svg

—Admiral Timothy J. Keating

Foreign aid agencies already in place and trying to help victims have reported that they continue to face problems in delivering large volumes of relief supplies in the affected regions. The U.S. naval ships had 22 heavy-lift helicopters that would have been ideally suited to the task. “Important heavy-lifting capability in the delta would have been a standard operating procedure for relief agencies in the response,” said Paul Risley of the United Nations World Food Program. The UN group has been trying to get ten civilian helicopters to fill the role in the interim, but the Burmese authorities have still not allowed nine of the civilian aircraft to be used in the relief efforts.

To date, the Burmese military has allowed 106 airlifts of foreign supplies to occur, but only into Rangoon, the largest city in the nation. Those delivered supplies are slated to be forwarded to the areas devastated by the cyclone. However, the ruling junta has refused to allow inland flights of foreign military helicopters to deliver relief aid. The junta believes they have sufficient abilities to deliver the resources but foreign analysts believe that the group does not wish to demonstrate to the Burmese people that it needs outside help. Doctors Without Borders has said that the relief efforts to date are not enough, and that many remote areas have received no assistance.

The UN determined that Burma may need relief efforts for a year. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has found that 495,000 acres of rice production areas have been damaged out of a total of 2.5 million acres. The areas are either still under too much water to sustain crops, or have been contaminated by seawater during Cyclone Nargis. According to Risley, the year-long importing of rice would be required as the damage was done just before the normal planting season. “This year’s crop will not meet requirements,” Risley said. “The losses to the production of rice are very deep. It would be typical for the WFP to provide food rations through the next harvest, which could be a year away.”

Access by foreigners to Burma has been generally restricted since the cyclone. Visas and travel permission to affected areas have been limited by the government. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement reported that “the small number of visas and the short duration of travel permits for access” into the areas in need of aid “continue to impose serious constraints on the effectiveness of overall operations.” The World Health Organization has said that, as of yet, there appears to be no “second wave” of deaths in the wake of the blocked relief efforts, which may be a sign of hope.

78,000 people were killed by the cyclone. To date, another 56,000 remain unaccounted for, according to Burma’s government.



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April 2, 2008

Two UN contract workers kidnapped in Somalia

Two UN contract workers kidnapped in Somalia

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

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Two foreign aid workers attached to a United Nations (UN) project were kidnapped in southern Somalia on Tuesday. The UN stated that the two men, one British and one Kenyan, were abducted at gunpoint while conducting a survey of local rivers. The men were taken hostage on a road leading to Bu’aale, in the southern Lower Jubba region of Somalia.

Lower Jubba region in Somalia.
Image: Sven-steffen arndt.

Briton Murray Watson was abducted along with his Kenyan colleague, Patrick Amukhuma, by six armed militiamen who ambushed their armed convoy. The abduction took place on a main road between Saakow and Bu’aale.

Gunfire was exchanged between Somali bodyguards and militia members. According to Agence France-Presse, local elders said that the gunmen fired shots during the attack and wounded one of the hostages, and The Daily Telegraph reported that witnesses said Watson was wounded in the leg.

Local district commissioner Ibrahim Noleye spoke with Agence France-Presse about the incident: “two foreign aid workers from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) were intercepted by armed militiamen on their way to Buale … We believe they are being held hostage”.

Amos Nyaoro of Somalia Water and Land Information Management, the UN-supported agency where Watson was working, told The Daily Telegraph: “We are attempting to make contact with the people who abducted our colleagues. It is unclear why this attack has taken place. We understand that Mr Watson has been hurt, but we don’t know the extent of his injuries.”

Reuters has reported that local militias were pursuing the kidnappers in an attempt to free the hostages, and local clan elders are pressing for their release. Hajir Bille, an official from the Juba region in Somalia, told the Associated Press that security forces were looking for the abductors.

Cquote1.svg Witnesses on the ground say there was gunfire when the men were taken, but there is no information to suggest that any serious injury was sustained by either man. Cquote2.svg

—United Nations country office for Somalia

A statement released by the UN country office for Somalia addressed reports that one of the men kidnapped had been wounded: “Witnesses on the ground say there was gunfire when the men were taken, but there is no information to suggest that any serious injury was sustained by either man.” Reuters has reported that the hostages are being held “in or near” the town of Jilib.

UN officials in Rome, Italy said that the two men worked for an Indian-based group sub-contracted to do aerial survey work for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a United Nations agency. The men are not themselves members of the FAO, but are employees of Genesys International Corporation, an information technology company in Bangalore, India.

Genesys International Corporation performs aerial surveys in Somalia which help the area population deal with flooding due to a rise in water level of the Juba and Shabelle rivers.

Western companies and organizations have paid ransoms to free their employees, and kidnappings in the area have increased as a result. In recent months attacks on foreigners in Somalia have increased, but had been localized to the northern region of Puntland. Médecins Sans Frontières withdrew its international staff from the country after three workers were killed by a bomb in February.

Attacks against Somalia’s weak government and its Ethiopian military backers have increased in the last six months. Somalia’s government has not been functional since civil war began in 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown and rival warlords then turned on each other.

Over one million citizens in Somalia depend on foreign aid, and UN aid helps millions of Somalians each year.



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January 12, 2006

Calls for aid to help feed millions, as East Africa plunges into drought

Calls for aid to help feed millions, as East Africa plunges into drought

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Millions may starve in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Djibouti in East Africa, because of extreme drought, combined with inequalities built into mechanisms for distributing food, according to the analysis made by Amartya Sen, who was awarded the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in 1998. War in parts of the region is an extra exacerbating factor.

The countries need immediate food, water, seeds and any other agricultural product, according to the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which reports that millions of people are on the brink of starvation due to the recent severe droughts that have been devastating the area.

“The whole area is affected,” FAO representative Shukri Ahmed said. “The situation is deteriorating.” Local newspaper reports gave an official death toll at 30 famine-related deaths, said Mr Ahmed.

Many had not expected that the area’s dry season would be as severe as it has been, and did not anticipate the effects.

Others, such as Yves Engler, expect famines and massive starvation to continue in the region as long as the IMF continues to influence economic policies in the region. Yves Engler has claimed, consistently with Amartya Sen’s analysis, that the IMF is responsible for worsening or actually creating famine in Malawi (2002), Ethiopia (2003) and Niger (2005).

The present drought has been said to be getting worse by the day, and the total figure for those who need food from the World Food Program could rise from today’s 1.2 million, to exceed 2.5 million people, according to United Nations (UN) spokesman Stephane Dujarric at the organisation’s New York headquarters.

The FAO had called for domestic food purchases in areas where harvests were expected to be favorable, coupled with food aid imports elsewhere, the UN’s Mr Dujarric said.

Crops have failed, and local attempts at distributing supplies have been blamed on poor infrastructure and a lack of supplies. What makes the region’s situation even more grave, is that the rainy season failed to aid in the production of much needed crops.

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Nearly one-fifth of the population of Djibouti were said to be facing food shortages and wide-spread starvation. Nearly $40 million is said to be needed to offset the famine. 64,000 tons of food are needed by the World Food Program, but only 16,700 were known to be available.

The World Food program was trying to assess the worst hit areas.

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July 19, 2005

Niger facing food shortages after drought

Niger facing food shortages after drought

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has warned that 2.5 million people living in the African country of Niger are facing food shortages. Of those, about 800,000 are children.

Supplies of the staple foods – such as millet – have been low, forcing prices up. Drought and plagues of locust devastated crops across the Sahel region of Africa, and in Niger the effects have been compounded by years of economic decline.

More than a third of the countries districts face “critical” or “extremely critical” situations. While rainfall in the last few weeks has improved, seeds are in short supply after the earlier droughts.

The FAO launched an appeal to the world community for $4m of aid to combat the situation. So far, the only contributor has been Sweden, who donated $650,000 of seeds and animal fodder, which is currently being distributed to make the most of the current rains.

It is said by Oxfam that the neighbouring countries of Mali and Mauritania are also affected putting the total number of people at risk close to 5 million.

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