Dwindling investment dollars in agriculture coupled with the global economic crisis are the causes for the record number of hungry people worldwide, the United Nations (U.N.) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a report on Wednesday.
"In the fight against hunger the focus should be on increasing food production," FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf told the Associated Press (AP). "It's common sense ... that agriculture would be given the priority, but the opposite has happened."
Diouf reported that the percentage of donor aid going towards agriculture dropped from 17 percent to 3.8 percent between 1980 and 2006, with only slight improvement in numbers over the last three years.
Economists for the FAO cited low food prices and competition from other aid fields as possible causes for the drop in investment. In recent years, soaring food prices for food staples in 2007 and 2008 pushed many families into the hunger bracket, resulting in the current record numbers.
The FAO reported in June that the number of hungry people worldwide had reached a record 1.02 billion, or roughly 15 percent of the world's population. According to the report, Asia and the Pacific have the largest number of hungry people with 642 million, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa with 265 million. Thirty countries, including 20 in Africa, currently require emergency food assistance.
The FAO's current report comes two days before World Food Day, a hunger-awareness and advocacy day that one spokesperson said would be better termed "World Hunger Day."
"Right now at a time when there are more hungry people in the world than ever before, there is less food aid than we have seen in living memory," World Food Program spokeswoman Emilia Casella told the Voice of America (VOA). "And this is extremely alarming to the World Food Program because we are the ones on the front lines trying to help the most hungry out of the one billion people who are going to bed every night without enough food."
According to Casella, more children die every year from hunger-related causes than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, a situation that she says is intolerable.
"The world does have enough capacity to grow enough food to feed everybody who is on the planet," Casella told VOA. "That is the most frustrating thing about what we are talking about."
"If the conditions were right and if farmers could get to their fields and if food could get to markets, people all over the world would have enough food to eat and today they do not."
The FAO estimates that an increase of nearly $36 billion yearly will be needed for poor countries to develop the necessary infrastructure for food production, with the organization urging international investment in the field despite the low economy. Diouf is scheduled to present a "toolbox" for helping countries to fight hunger on Thursday.