High food prices led to 50 million more hungry people in 2007, UN says

3 July 2008 – Soaring food prices have pushed 50 million more people to go hungry, the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today, calling for stepped-up global cooperation to boost food security in poor nations.

“Donor countries, international institutions, governments of developing countries, civil society and the private sector have an important role to play in the global fight against hunger,” Jacques Diouf, FAO Director-General, said in an address to a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels.

He noted that the current crisis was triggered by a confluence of factors: the surging demand for agricultural products due to population and economic growth in emerging market nations; increased use of biofuels; and inadequate supplies of cereals – at their lowest levels in three decades – and other products due to climate change.

Further aggravating these problems are the restrictive protectionist measures taken by some exporting nations, speculation on futures markets and high prices of agricultural inputs such as fertilizer.

Climate change is also playing a substantial role, with the world losing between 5 and 10 million hectares of agricultural land annually due to severe degradation. The consequence of a global temperature rise of over three degrees could be a drop in major crop yields by 20 to 40 per cent in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

“The present situation is a result of the international community’s neglect of agriculture in developing countries for a long time,” Mr. Diouf said.

He pointed out that the proportion of agriculture in official development assistance has plummeted from 17 per cent in 1980 to only 3 per cent in 2006, while investment in agricultural research in developing countries is shy of 0.6 per cent of gross domestic product.

Bolstered public and private investment is needed to enhance agricultural production in developing countries, the Director-General said, adding that farmers in these nations must receive additional support through the supply of seeds and fertilizers.

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