25 September 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Soaring food prices, climate change and population growth had caused a worsening world food crisis, according to the findings of a report outlined today at a Headquarters press conference by members of Ireland’s Hunger Task Force.

Ireland had called for the establishment of the Hunger Task Force in 2006 to identify the contributions it could make to international efforts to reduce hunger.  The 15-member Task Force, which includes a mixture of national and international experts, is part of the Government’s effort to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015.

At a meeting of the Task Force this morning, on the margins of the high-level event on the Millennium Development Goals, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, noted that the Task Force had started work in 2007 –- long before the food crisis “stormed into the consciousness of broad public opinion”.  He expressed confidence that its report would reinforce the work of his own High-Level Task Force on the Food Security Crisis, which had developed a Comprehensive Framework for Action. 

Calling on the international community to increase aid to poorer nations, as they briefed correspondents, were Ireland’s Minister of State for Overseas Development, Peter Power, along with representatives of the Task Force:  Joe Walsh, Chairman of the Irish Hunger Task Force; Pamela Anderson, Director-General of the International Potato Center; Nancy Aburi, Nigeria-based Strategic Resources (K) Limited; Justin Kilcullen of the Irish Catholic Agency for World Development; and Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Mr. Power, describing the morning meeting, said it had been an “excellent session attended by committed people”.  The group had recently met in Accra, Ghana, where it had discussed at length international aid and its existing framework.  The report of the Hunger Task Force represented a key contribution by Ireland to the international aid effort, and he hoped that it could be disseminated widely.

Mr. Walsh, underlining that there were 862 million hungry people in the world and 10 million children dying of starvation each year, said those statistics were worsening, owing to increasing food prices, climate change and an exploding population.  “Rather than the situation getting better -- because of a number of unique situations, not least, the increase in the price of food and cereals in particular, climate changes and the actual increase in population, the situation is getting worse rather than better in many respects,” he said.

The Task Force report makes recommendations in three key areas:  improving smallholder productivity in Africa; enhancing efforts to tackle maternal and infant undernutrition; and delivering on existing commitments and ensuring coherence in the international architecture to address hunger.

On the need to increase agricultural productivity, he said that, over the past two decades, expenditure on agricultural activity had declined from 5.3 per cent to 3 per cent, and with that the ability to improve the lot of the smaller farmer.  Particularly at risk was the 70 per cent of farmers in the poorest countries who lived in rural areas, 80 per cent of which was women.

Concerning the second area, nutrition, Mr. Walsh said that that was a forgotten aspect in the fight against hunger.  “People have confused quantity with quality,” he said, stressing the need to ensure that the situations that led individual growth to be stunted because of a lack of key nutrients –- in some cases, only micro-nutrients –- were addressed.

Turning to the third area of concern, governance, he called on Governments involved in the fight against hunger to follow through on their aid pledges.  Measures must be put in place to ensure adherence to commitments.   Ireland, for its part, had recommended the appointment of a special envoy to ensure that its commitments were implemented.

Responding to a question about whether the developed world could afford to focus on the issue of hunger in light of the current global financial crisis, Mr. Zachs pointed out that Governments were only asked to contribute 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to the cause. 

“The idea that you can’t afford this is shocking,” Mr. Sachs said.  Wall Street paid itself more in bonuses each year than the whole world gave to Africa.  “There is a misunderstanding on foreign assistance.  People overstate foreign assistance by 50 times.  The US is addicted to shipping food to Africa.  It is 10 times more expensive than helping Africa to grow its own food,” he said.

Ms. Anderson said:  “It’s not -- can we afford to do this?  It’s -- can we afford not to?”

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For information media • not an official record