October 16th is United Nations World Food Day, observed annually on the occasion of the founding in 1945 of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO. This year's theme is "United Against Hunger."
New numbers from a joint report by the FAO and the UN World Food Program indicate that the number of chronically hungry people has fallen for the first time in fifteen years, dropping from just over one billion to nine hundred twenty five million. Nonetheless, this still means that nearly one of every six people goes to bed hungry every night.
The hungry are mostly the rural poor living in developing countries, mostly subsistence farmers, mostly women and children. And most of them live in Asia or South America, and especially Africa.
Hunger is a consequence of poverty, and also one of its causes. Hunger exists because many countries lack social safety nets; because in many countries women, although they do most of the farming, do not have as much access as men to training, credit or land. Conflict, governance systems that do not encourage investment in agriculture; poor management of land and natural resources, lack of educational opportunity, displacement of small farmers by natural disasters; and financial and economic crises that eliminate jobs at the lowest levels, all contribute toward creating conditions that push the poorest into hunger.
If we are to reach the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal of cutting in half the proportion of people suffering from hunger by the year 2015, public and private sectors, whether they be local, national or international in scope, we need to work together to eliminate hunger by giving the poor the tools they need to help themselves.
Ending gender inequality, and empowering women farmers by giving them equal access to training and credit are necessary steps towards ending hunger. Improving small farmers’ access to both domestic and international markets would also help. But the most acute need is for increased investment in the agricultural sectors of countries with the highest numbers of people living in food insecurity.
"With a child dying every 6 seconds because of undernourishment related problems, hunger remains the world's largest tragedy and scandal," said UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Director-General Jacques Diouf. "This is absolutely unacceptable."