Impossible to Cut Hunger in Half by 2015
By Jorge A. Grochembake*
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization realizes that it will not be able to meet the 2015 goal of relieving half of the 54.8 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean from the hunger they suffer. Between 1990 and 2000, public sector resources for development assistance have fallen off 50 percent, FAO director-general Jacques Diouf told Tierramérica.
GUATEMALA CITY - The international community's goal to reduce world hunger by half will not be attained in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2015, because it would be impossible to reverse the growing tendency towards food insecurity in that period, concluded the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) during a recent ministerial meet in Guatemala.
"At the rate we're going, we would not even reach the goal in 150 years," Alfredo Puig, the FAO's permanent ambassador in Cuba, told Tierramérica.
Peasant farmers and indigenous peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean have been demanding land and credits for decades as a means to escape poverty and ensure their food supplies.
In 1996, the heads of state who took part in the World Food Summit, in Rome, pledged to halve by 2015 the proportion of people suffering hunger, estimated at 842 million worldwide.
FAO estimates there are 54.8 million undernourished people in Latin America and the Caribbean.
To achieve the hunger abatement goal, it would be necessary to reduce that number by at least 30 million, but the projection of current trends indicates that by 2015 there will still be 49 million people living in situations of food insecurity in the region, warns FAO.
This gloomy outlook is outlined in a document of this U.N. agency that was discussed last week in the Guatemalan capital during the 28th FAO ministerial conference for Latin America and the Caribbean, attended by ministers from 33 countries.
"As long as we are unable to fight the causes of this situation, we will remain in this vicious circle of unanswerable demands," said Puig.
Central America is the region of greatest concern: in the early 1990s there were five million undernourished people there, and the figure rose to 7.5 million by the end of that decade.
Part of the problem, says Puig, lies in the fact that more than 70 percent of the world population suffering hunger lives in rural areas, ignored by their governments and by the international community, which instead of investing in the countryside earmarks funds for urban infrastructure.
Mexico's Gustavo Gordillo, FAO's Latin American and Caribbean regional director, told Tierramérica that the lack of financing for the rural sector is a serious problem.
"Financing through international cooperation and credit resources has been on continued decline over the past 10 years," said Gordillo.
The climate surrounding the conference reflected the discouraging nature of that news.
Guatemalan Roman Catholic bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, leading thousands of protesting peasant farmers in Guatemala last Wednesday, accused the FAO of being "dominated by bureaucrats who spend funds on meetings and trips without resolving anything."
He also questioned the U.N. agency's approval of such things as the agro-export model, which "in Guatemala makes a handful of people rich, and makes the majority poor."
"Nor do they take up the issue of land ownership, which follows that agro-export model," said the bishop of the diocese in the northern department of San Marcos, bordering Mexico, and the center of continued conflicts over the land.
Puig noted that only the countries of northern Europe have complied with the pledge made by industrialized nations to earmark 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) for international development aid.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Denmark, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden are the only wealthy nations that have honored the pledge.
FAO director general Jacques Diouf, of Senegal, recognized in a conversation with Tierramérica that there is a negative trend in the fight against hunger and in financing.
Between 1990 and 2000, public sector resources like development assistance have fallen off 50 percent, said Diouf. That decline covers international aid and credits as well as government-held funds.
However, he said there is a clear desire in some countries of the region to focus more resources on the rural sector.
More countries need to take that attitude, and it must translate into real investment in setting aside a portion of the national budget to benefit the poor, particularly farmers, said the FAO chief.
Diouf said FAO is backing agricultural development and food security strategies, like Brazil's "Zero Hunger" program and Guatemala's "Anti-Hunger Front".
The U.N. agency also supports farmer-led programs, like those for managing water resources, irrigation and drainage, as well as activities for improving and diversifying crops.
* Jorge A. Grochembake is a Tierramérica contributor.