More agricultural investment vital to combat hunger in Asia-Pacific, says UN official

7 July 2010 – The Asia-Pacific region – home to two-thirds of the world’s one billion malnourished people – must see growth in agricultural investment to tackle the hunger challenge, a senior United Nations official stressed today.

The number of hungry people in Asia and the Pacific climbed by more than 60 million in 2009 to 642 million, Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said in a video message to an investment forum in Manila, Philippines.

“The sheer magnitude of food insecurity is the result of the low priority that has been given to agriculture in economic development policies,” he said, citing the plummeting share of agriculture in official development assistance (ODA) from just under 20 per cent in 1980 to 5 per cent today.

Currently, agriculture accounts for 11 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Asia-Pacific’s developing countries and more than half of total employment.

“In view of the critical dependence of this region’s people on agriculture for their food security, it is encouraging to note that the long-standing neglect of agriculture is finally being reversed,” Mr. Diouf stated in his address to the event, co-hosted by FAO, the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The commitment made last year in Italy and again recently in Canada by the leaders of the so-called Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries to boost resources for food security and agriculture is “a step in the right direction, provided that it is implemented effectively and rapidly,” he added.

A recent FAO report warned that global food prices could climb by as much as 40 per cent in the coming decade, as the global population continues to surge.

The Agriculture Outlook 2010-19 anticipates that wheat and coarse grain prices could jump to levels of between 15 and 40 per cent higher than they were between 1997 and 2006, while vegetable oil and dairy prices are also projected to rise by more than 40 per cent.

Spikes in livestock prices are not expected to be as marked, even in the face of rising global demand for meat which is set to outpace demand for other commodities as some segments of the population in emerging economies alter their dietary habits due to increased wealth.

“The role of developing countries in international markets is growing quickly, and as their impact grows, their policies also have an increasing bearing on conditions in global markets,” Mr. Diouf said at the report’s launch last month in Rome.

As a result, these nations’ role and contribution is global policy is crucial, he stressed, urging a more global scope to discussions on fighting hunger and malnutrition.

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