“We are suggesting that everyone in the world who wants to show solidarity with the one hungry billion people on this planet go on hunger strike next Saturday or Sunday,” Diouf told a press conference.
“I shall personally begin a 24-hour fast on Saturday morning,” he added.
According to FAO statistics, 1.02 billion people live in chronic hunger. Every six seconds a child dies of hunger.
FAO appealed to world leaders to agree in the food security summit on immediate action to reverse the situation and build momentum to end the scourge of hunger and malnutrition.
“Despite all the promises made, concrete action on hunger has been lacking,” Diouf declared. “In the absence of strong measures another global food crisis cannot be excluded.”
**THE ONE BILLION PETITION**
Diuof launched an online anti-hunger petition on www.1billionhungry.org.
Visitors to the website are asked to sign the petition if they agree that one billion people living in chronic hunger is unacceptable.
“I would urge as many people as possible to sign our petition,” Diouf said. “Each click will serve as another reason, in addition to the billion we already have, for ending hunger. Each click will also serve as a goad to world leaders to ‘walk the talk’.”
The global food insecurity situation has worsened and continues to represent a serious threat for humanity, according to FAO.
“With food prices remaining stubbornly high in developing countries, the number of people suffering from hunger has been growing relentlessly in recent years”, the UN body said.
“The global economic crisis is aggravating the situation by affecting jobs and deepening poverty.”
FAO estimates that the number of hungry people could increase by a further 100 million in 2009 and pass the one billion mark.
**THE SILENT HUNGER**
“The silent hunger crisis — affecting one sixth of all of humanity — poses a serious risk for world peace and security,” Diouf alerted.
FAO calls for increasing investment in agriculture as for the majority of poor countries a healthy agricultural sector is essential to overcome hunger and poverty and is a pre-requisite for overall economic growth.
“The gravity of the current food crisis is the result of 20 years of under-investment in agriculture and neglect of the sector. Directly or indirectly, agriculture provides the livelihood for 70 percent of the world’s poor”, FAO reports.
FAO estimates that net investments of US$ 83 billion a year must be made in agriculture in developing countries if there is to be enough food for 9.1 billion people in 2050
Food production will have to increase by 70 percent.
**HOW TO FEED 9 BILLION IN 2050?**
As part of the food security summit preparations, around 300 leading experts from academic, non-governmental and private sector institutions from developing and developed countries, met in Rome on Oct. 12-13.
The experts informed that in the first half of this century, as the world’s population grows to around 9 billion, global demand for food, feed and fibre will nearly double while, increasingly, crops may also be used for bio-energy and other industrial purposes.
New and traditional demand for agricultural produce will thus put growing pressure on already scarce agricultural resources.
“And while agriculture will be forced to compete for land and water with sprawling urban settlements, it will also be required to serve on other major fronts: adapting to and contributing to the mitigation of climate change, helping preserve natural habitats, protecting endangered species and maintaining a high level of biodiversity”, according to the experts.
“As though this were not challenging enough, in most regions fewer people will be living in rural areas and even fewer will be farmers. They will need new technologies to grow more from less land, with fewer hands.”
**THE SEVEN FATIDIC QUESTIONS?**
On the eve of the world summit on food security, FAO has called to give answer to seven major questions:
– Will we be able to produce enough food at affordable prices or will rising food prices drive more of the world’s population into poverty and hunger?
– How much spare capacity in terms of land and water do we have to feed the world in 2050?
– What are the new technologies that can help us use scarce resources more efficiently, increase and stabilize crop and livestock yields?
– Are we investing enough in research and development for breakthroughs to be available in time?
– Will new technologies be available to the people who will need them most – the poor?
– How much do we need to invest in order to help agriculture adapt to climate change.
– How much can agriculture contribute to mitigating extreme weather events?
**CLIMATE CHANGE SPECTRE HAUNTING THE POOR**
Poorest regions with the highest levels of chronic hunger are likely to be among the worst affected by climate change, according to an FAO paper published on Sept 30.
Many developing countries, particularly in Africa, could become increasingly dependent on food imports, according to the study.
While globally the impact of climate change on food production may be small, at least until 2050, the distribution of production will have severe consequences on food security.
In fact, developing countries may experience a decline of between 9 and 21 percent in overall potential agricultural productivity as a result of global warming.
Climate change is expected to affect agriculture and forestry systems through higher temperatures, elevated carbon dioxide concentration, changes in rainfall, increased weeds, pests and diseases.
In the short term, the frequency of extreme events such as droughts, heat waves, floods and severe storms is expected to increase.
**THE AFRICAN CHALLENGE**
According to FAO, the recent positive performance of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa indicates a break with the past and the outlook for the sector is improving.
However “concerted and purposeful policy action” is required to maintain the momentum, according to a FAO study issued on Sept. 28.
After decades of decline, the sub-Saharan agricultural sector — 80 percent of which consists of smallholder farmers — grew more than 3.5 percent in 2008, well above the two percent rate of population growth.
The gains were driven by a more favourable policy environment for agriculture in many countries and higher world prices for food commodities such as wheat and rice. Technological advances such as the New Rice for Africa drought-resistant rice variety have also helped boost production in the region.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is predicted to grow from 770 million in 2005 to 1.5 to 2 billion in 2050. Despite rapid migration from the countryside to cities and the growth in urban population, the absolute number of rural people is also likely to continue to increase.
**MUCH HOPE, BUT . . .**
One of the main advantages of the region is its abundance of natural resources, including water, although distribution is very uneven. “At the moment only 3 percent of the region’s food crops are produced using irrigation compared to more than 20 percent globally,” according to FAO.
“Irrigation would massively increase yields and output. Land is also underused,” says FAO while recognising that any expansion of land under cultivation has environmental consequences
The UN body estimates that the potential additional land area available for cultivation in sub-Saharan Africa amounts to more than 700 million hectares.
Nevertheless, Africa still faces big farming challenges, which FAO has summarised as follows:
– Some 218 million people in Africa, around 30 percent of the total population, are estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition.
– Eighty percent of Africa’s farms are less than two hectares in size and there are 33 million of them.
– Cereal yields have grown little and are still around 1.2 tonnes per hectare in the region, compared to an average of some 3 tonnes per hectare in the developing world as a whole.
– Fertilizer consumption was only 13 kg per hectare in sub-Saharan Africa in 2002, compared to 73 kg in the Middle East and North Africa and 190 kg in East Asia and the Pacific.
– Only 3 percent of land in sub-Saharan Africa is irrigated, compared to more than 20 percent globally.
– 40 percent of the population of the region lives in landlocked countries, as against only 7.5 percent in other developing countries
– Transport costs in sub-Saharan Africa can be as high as 77 percent of the value of exports.
By Babukar Kashka/IDN