Every year, millions of children die before adulthood and millions of adults never reach their full potential as a result of living with hunger. It is an affliction that stalls many nations on the road to development. Progress has been slow on a plan to halve the number of the world's chronically hungry people by 2015. This year, the United Nations is marking World Food Day (16 October) by calling for the creation of an international alliance against hunger.
Prague, 15 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The world produces enough food to nourish its entire population. But more than 840 million people are believed to suffer from chronic hunger, most of them in the developing world.
Leaders attending the 1996 World Food Summit pledged to halve the number of hunger sufferers by 2015. But that goal now seems unrealistic. The number of hungry people in the world is decreasing by barely 2.5 million people a year. At that rate, it may be 2115 before the summit's goal is achieved.
With this in mind, this year's World Food Day will focus on an initiative called the International Alliance Against Hunger, which aims to build a united front in combating the problem worldwide. Eva Clayton is the assistant director-general of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is sponsoring World Food Day. She said a global partnership is needed to guarantee the basic human right to food.
"We can stop hunger. 'We' means all of us. If we combine our energies and our resources and our concerns and issues -- pooling that together, we can stop hunger. So the alliance is bringing partners together in countries, selecting issues that are important, creating the political will, and the stability to stay with it," Clayton said.
The FAO says leaders in an increasing number of countries are putting the fight against hunger at the forefront of national priorities. It says these countries need international support. Still others need to be urged to adopt a similar stance.
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf stresses that the primary responsibility for fighting hunger within an individual country lies with its government and its people, who must set their own national targets. "What is needed is the political will to tackle the underlying causes of hunger in all its manifestations," he said. "Nations must turn verbal commitments to fight hunger into practical programs. In most developing countries, the majority of people live in rural areas and derive their livelihoods from agriculture. It therefore makes sense to invest in agriculture."
Ironically, hunger is worst in those regions where food is grown, rural areas being home to 75 percent of the world's poor. Many do not have access to land they could use for their own subsistence.
Bruce Moore told RFE/RL that he believes change is possible. He is a member of the International Land Coalition, a global alliance of intergovernmental, governmental, and civil-society organizations for the rural poor. "In Malawi, 200 village women have gained access to land," he said. "While the new land laws in Malawi provide for women's rights -- a progressive change needed in many other countries -- it was necessary to empower the women so they could effectively claim their resource rights. And in Uganda, the Uganda Land Alliance -- an International Land Coalition partner -- educates the rural poor on land issues and assists the landless through a land-rights and legal-aid service."
The Uganda Land Alliance is a consortium of local and international nongovernmental organizations working to guarantee that those who use the land to produce food -- mainly women -- control the use and product of their labor. As a consequence, more women are able to manage hunger at a household level.
Margaret Rugadya, a program officer at the Uganda Land Alliance in Kampala, said: "We ensure that the producers, who are mainly women and children, have access to land and can control the produce from land. If they produce something, they [should be] able to control its use in the home, to ration how much goes to the market. Because another aspect of the hunger problem in Uganda is that after the food is produced from the gardens -- because the producers do not own the land on which they are producing -- it is then taken over by other actors within the household, especially the head of the household, who then sells it off without consideration for the food needs of the household. So at the end of the day, the food kept for the family is not enough. Consequently, the household suffers hunger."
Women's new access to land, Rugadya noted, has altered the existing patriarchal system of Uganda's society, in which men generally own the land.