A mandate to end world hunger [Archives:2005/887/Reportage]

October 20 2005


The relentless quest for food has moulded human history, provoking wars, driving migrations and underpinning the growth of nations. As countries began to discover each other, long-distance trading systems developed which have also had a fundamental impact on what people eat: maize, originating in Mexico, has become the staple food of much of eastern and southern Africa; tomatoes from the Andes are now essential ingredients of Mediterranean cuisine; wheat from the Middle East has become the dominant crop of North America; rice from Asia is today a major universal crop; coffee and tilapia fish from Africa are consumed worldwide; and Latin America owes most of its cattle, sheep and pig heritage to Europe and Asia.

Since World War II, the world has witnessed the most rapid and radical transformation in food production and distribution systems that has ever occurred. While forest-dwelling tribes still hunt for their food in some regions, elsewhere a single person, harnessing modern technology, may cultivate hundreds of hectares of high-yielding crops to meet the food needs of thousands of families on the other side of the globe.

Sixty years ago, on 16 October, as the Second World War just ended, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was founded out of the need for peace as well as the need for freedom from hunger, the two being interdependent as reflected in the words of the founding fathers: “Peace is essential if there is to be progress toward freedom from want.”

Today, with the continued existence of world hunger – 852 million persons still suffer from chronic undernutrition – and increasingly frequent globalized food emergencies, it is more necessary than ever to have a global forum where consensus can be reached on the international dimensions of food security, including food production, safety, trade and consumption.

During FAO's lifetime, the planet's population has almost tripled to over six billion people. Thanks to the efforts of millions of farmers, to the creativity of scientists and to the growth of industry, trade and communications, we now produce more than enough food to feed everyone. Average daily food intake per person has risen by 23 percent since 1945. This is a remarkable achievement that has defied the prophets of disaster.

However, despite these successes, the world is still not free from hunger. The fact that hundreds of millions of our fellow humans are doomed from birth to live without enough to eat is an affront to the most basic of human rights, the right of every individual to adequate food. That obesity now ranks high on the list of global health hazards is a sad reflection of society's inability to use food in a way that maximises human benefits. That nations invest some 975 billion dollars each year in military spending and spend just under 80 billion dollars in aid which could reduce the hunger and poverty that breeds conflict confounds common sense.

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Organization, we, at FAO, reaffirm our belief that, in the best interests of peace, a hunger-free world is possible. But it is a goal that cannot be achieved by FAO or governments working alone. FAO thus urges all who share the commitment to end hunger to work with the International Alliance Against Hunger by joining national alliances or other endeavours at local level to translate this shared vision into practical action.