The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) marked World Food Day Tuesday by calling on international leaders to combat the commodity-price volatility that has contributed to pushing thousands into hunger in recent years. "Food prices and volatility have increased in recent years.
This is expected to continue in the medium term," said Jose' Graziano da Silva, the director-general of the Rome-based United Nations agency.
"In this context, it is important to improve governance of food security. In the globalized world we live in, it's not possible to have food security in one country alone," da Silva told a meeting attended by ministers from 20 different countries.
Da Silva has urged nations to step up efforts to achieve the Millenium Development Goal (MDG) of cutting the proportion of people suffering hunger by half its 1990 level by 2015, saying it was still possible to hit this target.
The FAO says that over one billion people were undernourished in 1990. This has been cut by 132 million, with FAO estimating that 870 million people are hungry today.
However, these numbers do not give a full picture of the progress made in combatting hunger as they do not account for the big expansion of the world's population over the last two decades.
Progress looks more impressive when the number of hungry people is considered in relation to the overall global population.
Indeed, the proportion of the hungry in the developing world, where most undernourished people are, has fallen from 23.2% in 1990 to 14.9% today. In order to the achieve the hunger MDG it will be necessary to bring that figure down to 11.6% over the next three years. Da Silva stressed, however, that this would only be a step towards attaining the overall goal of eliminating hunger completely. "As we renew and increase our commitment to reach the Millennium Development Goal for hunger reduction, let's look beyond it, towards the total eradication of hunger because, when it comes to hunger, the only acceptable number is zero," da Silva said. The FAO used World Food Day to highlight the role agricultural cooperatives can play in fighting hunger. It said these cooperatives were already improving the lives of millions of small-scale farmers, alleviating poverty and undernourishment among the rural poor by helping them access tools, seeds and markets.
It argued that these cooperatives could do even more if they were given the right support by governments, civil society and academia. Pope Benedict XVI backed the FAO's message.
"Agricultural cooperatives have an alternative vision to those economic models that seem to have as their only goals, profit, the interests of the markets, the use of food crops for non-food purposes and the introduction of new food production technologies without the necessary precautions," the pope said in a statement for World Food Day. "The presence of cooperatives can put an end to the trend of speculation in essential food commodities intended for human consumption, and reduce the large-scale acquisition of arable lands that in many regions forces farmers off their land because by themselves they are too weak to defend their rights".