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New Food Reports Highlight Growing Global Hunger

Reforms are required to curb global hunger, which was already “growing” before the worldwide financial downturn, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said in a report, released in Rome, ahead of World Food Day on Friday, the BBC reports (10/14).

“After gains in the fight against hunger in the 1980s and early 1990s, the number of undernourished people started climbing in 1995, reaching 1.02 billion this year under the combined effect of high food prices and the global financial meltdown,” according to the 2009 State of Food Insecurity report. “The figure topped the 1 billion mark in June, and was 963 million a year ago,” the Associated Press reports (David, 10/14).

“The increase in the number of hungry people is not a result of poor harvests but is due to high food prices — particularly in developing countries — lower incomes and lost jobs,” Reuters writes (Aloisi, 10/14). The FAO said that reductions in aid and private investment for agriculture contributed to the global rise in hunger. “In 1980, 17 percent of aid contributed by donor countries went to agriculture. That share was down to 3.8 percent in 2006 and only slightly improved in the last three years, [FAO Director-General Jacques] Diouf said,” the AP writes (10/14).

“In Asia and the Pacific, an estimated 642 million people are suffering from chronic hunger; in Sub-Saharan Africa 265 million; in Latin America and the Caribbean 53 million; in the Near East and North Africa 42 million; and in developed countries 15 million,” according to an FAO release (10/14).

In the report, Diouf and Josette Sheeran, head of the WFP, said, “No nation is immune and, as usual, it is the poorest countries — and the poorest people — that are suffering the most.” The report warns that the goal “of reducing the number of undernourished people by half to no more than 420 million by 2015 will not be reached if the trends that prevailed before those crises continue,” Agence France-Presse reports (10/14). According to the release, the report highlights some efforts to address hunger, but notes, “given the severity of the crisis, much more needs to be done” (10/14).

In related news, a second report, which found that the “world has made little progress in reducing hunger since 1990,” highlights the situation in 29 countries with “alarming malnutrition,” Reuters reports. The countries, which are mostly in Africa and South Asia, are “most vulnerable to the impact of historically high food and energy prices, as well as economic recession,” the news service writes. However, these factors weren’t captured in this year’s annual hunger index report, which was based on 2007 data and published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the aid groups Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide.

“Since 1990, the global index has improved to 15.2 from 20.0. A score under 5 is viewed as low, while 20 is scored as ‘alarming’ and over 30 is designated ‘extremely alarming,'” Reuters reports. “Sub-Saharan Africa had a regional index of 22.1, while South Asia scored 23.0, mainly because of widespread child malnutrition, the report said.” According to the findings, Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam were among some of the countries that significantly improved their scores. A total of 13 countries saw hunger levels rise (Rampton, 10/14).

The report found that more than 40 percent of children in India, which ranks 65th on the 84 country index, are underweight, IANS/Thaindian News reports (10/14).

No Change To U.S. Food Policy, U.S. Envoy Says

U.S. commitments to a $20 billion agricultural program to assist farmers in developing countries are not an indication that the U.S. has changed its food aid policies, which favor commodity donations rather than cash, said Ertharin Cousin, U.S. envoy to U.N. agencies in Rome, Reuters reports.

“I’ve been out in the field. The children don’t ask where the food came from, they want to make sure that we deliver food to them and we are going to continue to do that and it’s been very successful for us doing that with commodities in the past,” she said. Reuters writes: “[Cousin] said that while there may be scope for buying aid products locally and regionally — which is usually cheaper and faster — on a limited basis, big purchases could backfire by driving up prices and creating shortages in poor countries.”

Although the U.S. might consider increasing its cash contribution to the WFP, if the organization makes an emergency appeal, other countries should also intervene, Cousin said. “The president made clear that the U.S. can’t do it all. We are open to appeals and we will continue to do what we can when we can but we also need other countries to continue to step up as well” (Aloisi, 10/13).

Experts To Address Hunger, Food Security At World Food Prize Talks

“Researchers and others who seek to alleviate hunger by boosting farmers’ productivity will gather this week in the heart of the U.S Corn Belt to focus on the political risks when people don’t have enough to eat,” Reuters reports (Rampton/Stebbins, 10/13). The World Food Prize talks, which begin on Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa, will address on food production and distribution “in a volatile world,” the Canadian Press writes. The article highlights conference speakers, which include U.S. Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack and Bill Gates, co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Crumb, 10/13).

Gebisa Ejeta, a Purdue University scientist, will receive this year’s World Food Prize. Ejeta “developed drought- and weed-tolerant crops and worked to get the seed into the hands of small farmers in his native Africa,” Reuters writes (10/13). Reuters’ blog, “Commodity Corner,” interviews “Per Pinstrup-Andersen, an agricultural economist at Cornell University and a Food Prize laureate,” about food security and related topics (Rampton, 10/13).

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