Monday, March 10, 2014

A world where no one goes hungry

Looking out at the modern, gleaming skyscrapers in many of the Asia-Pacific region's megacities, one could easily forget that this economic transformation masks an unmistakable reality.

While the region continues to record a higher economic growth rate than any other in recent history, it remains home to nearly two-thirds of the world's undernourished. In other words, more people go to bed hungry each night in this region than in all the other regions of the world combined.

Further, many are not getting enough of the vitamins and minerals their bodies need to keep them healthy. This hidden hunger affects two billion people worldwide.

But there is room for optimism. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's latest estimates, the proportion of undernourished people in Asia and the Pacific has declined from around 24 per cent in the early 1990s to 13.5 per cent by last year. This means that, if we double our efforts, it is possible to achieve the Millennium Development Goal hunger target of reducing the proportion of undernourishment by half, to 12 per cent, by the target year 2015.

But we mustn't stop there. We also need to lift the remaining 12 per cent out of hunger. How could we leave them behind? Our goal must be "zero hunger". As part of the United Nations' Zero Hunger Challenge, the FAO is committed to helping member countries eradicate hunger by 2025.

There are various challenges that we need to address. We need to waste less and produce more, sustainably. And we need to support small-scale farming. Family farmers already supply most of the food we eat in many countries, but are among the most vulnerable themselves.

In the meantime, we also see depletion of fish stocks. So we need to put our heads together to find solutions.

For example, we know we can prevent food loss and wastage - which is as high as 30 per cent in Asia and the Pacific. And we must work together to help those who work to supply us with the food we need.

While the private sector can provide the bulk of agricultural investment, these investments need to be responsible and contribute to food security, and governments must create an enabling environment for that to occur, while implementing and enhancing social protection programmes for rural people.

That's why governments from nearly 40 FAO member states are gathering in Ulan Bator, Mongolia this week to respond to these challenges.

The delegates will work together to address issues to combat hunger, making recommendations ranging from improvements to farmers' and fishers' livelihoods, to the restoration of forests and grasslands, intensification of food production and progress on a regional rice initiative, with campaigns to cut down on post-harvest food losses and wastage.

Together we can work towards a world free from hunger, and one that reinforces the critical importance of all of those involved in producing the food we, and our future generations, need.

José Graziano da Silva is director-general of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Enough for all

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