15 - 16 November 2006, United Nations, New York



11:15 - 12:45, Conference Room 2

Moderator: Mr. Prabhu Pingali, Director, Agricultural and Development Economics Division, FAO
Ms. Rajul Pandya-Lorch
, Head, 2020 Vision for Food, Agriculture, and the Environment Initiative, and Chief of Staff, Director General's Office, International Food Policy Research Institute
Mr. David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World
Mr. Roberto Bissio, Executive Director, Third World Institute; Coordinator, Social Watch

Session organized by FAO, IFAD, WFP and UNHABITAT

Trends in Hunger and Extreme Poverty

Half way through the time period for reaching the millennium development goals (1990-2015) the progress with achieving the poverty target presents a mixed picture of success in some parts of the world (China, East Asia) and failure in others (sub-Saharan Africa). On an aggregate however, poverty reduction seems to be on target to meet the first Millennium Development Goal.  

However, as regards progress in hunger reduction the picture is discouraging. Virtually no progress has been made towards the realisation of the World Food Summit target  of halving  by 2015 the number of undernourished people from the 1990-92 level. Recent data confirm that since 1990–92, the undernourished population in the developing countries declined from 823 million to 820 million, only by 3 million people.  This corresponded to a reduction in the proportion of undernourished from 20 percent in 1990–92 to 17 percent in 2001–2003.  However, progress over this period was slower than over the previous two decades.

The hunger-poverty nexus

Poverty in developing countries is predominantly a rural phenomenon, both in that the majority of the poor tend to live in rural areas and that poverty rates in rural areas are almost always higher than in urban areas.  The rural poor derive their living directly from agriculture or from activities closely linked to it, while participation of rural households in agricultural activities is as high as 90 per cent in some countries. 

Poverty and hunger are closely related. Extreme poverty is almost always at the root of chronic hunger. Poor people do not possess the means to access and/or produce the food necessary for an active and healthy life and are more vulnerable to destitution following extreme events. However, hunger also impacts negatively on longer term sustainable development through its negative impact on health, disease and mortality.  Hunger  causes the loss of millions of productive life years as a result of disease, disabilities and premature death.

The “hunger–low productivity–extreme poverty“ nexus acts as a trap, a vicious circle from which poor rural people find difficult  to escape.   

Hunger also have adverse impact on the effectiveness of effort to achieve other Millennium Development Goals: malnutrition is a major cause of child and maternal mortality and of low rates of school attendance; the struggle for survival may cause  the overexploitation or misuse of natural resources which, in turn,  compromises people’s food security, thus giving rise to a vicious circle of poverty.

Lessons learnt in the fight against poverty and hunger

Lessons from past experiences including those of the three Rome based food agencies (FAO, IFAD and WFP) can provide important insights for general policy directions.

Pro-poor agricultural growth plays a critical role in enhancing food security and reducing poverty in developing countries. Countries which gave due importance to the development of the agricultural sector and the rural areas have performed better in terms of hunger and poverty reduction.

Pro-poor institutions are vital for sustainable reduction of poverty and the poor must be empowered to negotiate investments in the rural and agricultural sectors. Impact is higher when project designs involve beneficiary participation.

Access to land and other natural resources is vital
for ensuring sustainable reduction of poverty and ensuring food security.

Hunger reduction is a prerequisite
for fast development and poverty reduction. Poverty reduction and progress towards other MDGs is faster when carefully targeted programmes provide immediate hunger relief.

Access to improved technology, especially for small-scale farmers
, can accelerate poverty reduction through increased crop yields and higher incomes. Technologies that build on and complement local knowledge tend to be particularly effective in meeting the needs of poor farmers in marginal environments.

Bottom-up and participatory approaches
through local institutions, managed by local communities, are the most effective ways of sustainable poverty reduction. Empowering poor people involves local capacity building and the enhancing of legal and property rights and access to resources, especially for vulnerable people. It is essential to strengthen the political leverage of rural people.

Equitable and secure access to resources
can accelerate poverty reduction. Traditional supply side policies must be combined with enhanced access to productive assets, especially land and water as well as technologies and support services. More equitable access to land requires changes in policies legislation and institutions both at the national level and by local communities.

International trade can contribute toreductions in hunger and poverty
, but the benefits are neither automatic nor universal. The pace and sequencing of trade reforms is crucial as is the existence of policies and programmes for the most vulnerable, who stand to lose from the impacts of trade.

Public investment in agriculture
such as in infrastructure, agricultural research, education and extension, is essential. But the share of agriculture and rural development in actual public expenditures in the developing countries does not reflect the importance of the sector to their national economies and the livelihood of their populations.

Development assistance for agriculture and rural development has to increase in volume  and targeted at the neediest countries and regions
. Development assistance is essential for very poor countries, and it is particularly critical for agriculture. Yet, external assistance to agriculture has declined significantly in real terms from the early 1980s and has not been targeting sufficiently the neediest countries.

Peace and stability are sine qua non conditions for growth and poverty reduction
. Violence and severe economic and political disruptions hit particularly hard  the poorest and most vulnerable populations and pushes them into chronic destitution.

Emerging policy challenges in a changing world context

Designing participatory development interventions
Reduction of poverty and hunger is not just a matter of increasing income on aggregates and producing enough food. Extreme inequality in distributing development benefits lie at the heart of much of the woes of the world today. The challenge of involving the poor and the hungry in designing appropriate investment interventions lies at the root of development policy making. Building capacity so that the poor can effectively engage in development, giving their voices due weight, channelling more resources to their welfare, and involving responsive civil societies and the poor in policy dialogues are some of the major policy challenge that the development community faces today.  

Urbanisation and the transformation of food markets
Rapid urbanization in developing countries poses a new set of issues for poverty and hunger reduction. Rising urban food demand and diet diversification induce an increasingly commercial orientation of production systems, an increasing dominance of agribusiness, private standards on food safety and quality and new forms of contractual arrangements between buyers and sellers along the food marketing chain. 

There is a need to ensure that small farmers are equipped with the necessary knowledge, technology and have access to cost-reducing public investments. The development of rural and urban areas must be addressed in an integrated manner in order to promote market integration with benefits to both urban and rural areas and to stem premature urbanization.  Infrastructure development and institutions are key interventions in this regard. Strengthening the development of secondary cities and towns  has proven to be an effective way of furthering rural-urban linkages and achieving balanced and sustainable territorial development.

Resource use and resource degradation
Rapid and extensive degradation of ecosystem services is exacerbating poverty and food insecurity in the developing world. Because many ecosystem services are not traded in markets, markets fail to provide appropriate signals for efficient allocation and sustainable use of the services.  

A major task therefore is to devise and implement appropriate economic and financial instruments to influence behaviour, such as: the elimination of subsidies that promote excessive use of ecosystem services and the promotion of market based approaches, including user fees and payments for environmental and ecosystem services.  In addition, strengthening institutional and environmental governance mechanisms, including the empowerment of local communities, is fundamental. 

Science and technology for development
Rapid advances in science and technology is opening up new opportunities . It is important to harness this knowledge both for small scale primary producers, as well as for activities such as processing, distribution and meeting grades and standards. The key is to remove   obstacles to access by smallholder farmers and small rural enterprises . Biotechnology involves promises and risks.  In most countries, the scientific, political, economic or institutional basis needs to be built in order provide adequate safeguards for biotechnology development and application, and to reap all the potential benefits.