The call by the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s director general, Jacques Diouf for more investment in agriculture in developing nations is one that should be viewed not just as an effort to feed the world’s one billion hungry people, but also as a way to stimulate economic development.
In the declaration presented at the end of the FAO’s World Summit on Food Security that was held over the last three days in Rome, Diouf described the billion hungry statistic as “our tragic achievement in these modern days”.
He noted that in some developing countries 60 to 80 per cent of the population can’t meet the food needs of the entire population while in developed states it is done with under four per cent.
“The planet can feed itself, provided that the decisions made are honoured and the required resources are effectively mobilized,” he said.
“Eliminating hunger from the face of Earth requires US$44 billion of official development assistance per year to be invested in infrastructure, technology and modern inputs. It is a small amount if we consider the $365 billion of agriculture producer support in OECD countries in 2007, and if we consider the $1,340 billion of military expenditures by the world in the same year.”
The FAO chief also noted there are several countries across Africa, Latin America and Asia that have successfully reduced the percentage of those going hungry.
He also said food security involves protection against pests and diseases that can affect human health and the need to prepare for emergency situations.
But while the declaration includes additional comments from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon that “there can be no food security without climate security” and from Pope Benedict XVI that there needs to be understanding of the rural world with favourable “access to international markets” given, there was no mention of the debilitating influence hunger has on economic fortunes.
It is disappointing the declaration did not highlight the link between hungry and undernourished populations with poor economic development.
In the past human rights activists overlooked the economic benefit angle in their struggles over discrimination against women in several regions.
But recently the UNDP came out with several reports highlighting the fact women can contribute massively to an economy if given the opportunity to work.
By taking this line as well as expressing the arguments around universal rights, the development agency has successfully given itself a new weapon to use in the fight against oppressive propagandists.
By doing so it arguably has a better chance of convincing populations, economic planners, corporations and those in position of authority that denying women their right to work is wrong – it limits economic growth and therefore wealth.
While the success of the UNDP move is not fully known yet, the principle is one the FAO should be looking to adopt.
If populations are unable to work because of hunger or spend inordinate amounts of time on food production the economy will suffer.
By playing the economic card with richer nations and potential companies and stressing the fact that market opportunities could arise with a well funded food program – a person is more likely to spend money on things if they are well fed and can work – they might have more luck than pulling at the heart strings.
The FAO declaration is well-intentioned, but I think people would respond better if it were spelt out in no uncertain terms that a worker with a full belly is better for global economic interests than one that isn’t.
The FAO’s World Summit on Food Security declaration can be viewed on its site: http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/37421/icode/