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A Billion Go Hungry And Total Is Set To Rise

(RFE/RL) -- More than 1 billion people go hungry every day, according to a UN report on world hunger issued to coincide with World Food Day on October 16.

The United Nations says it's the first time since 1970 that the figure has topped the billion mark.

The stark news appears to make a mockery of the UN's Millennium Development Goals, which set out in 2000 to halve poverty by 2015.

The report, published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program, says the world financial crisis has caused a sharp rise in the number of hungry people in the last year and a half.

But the report also says the number had been rising slowly but steadily in previous years.

In sub-Saharan Niger alone, human rights organizations are warning that some 2.6 million people are facing a food crisis because of poor rains that have hurt the cereal crop.

FAO economist David Dawe is calling for urgent investment in farming in developing countries.

"All poor people spend a lot of their budget on food, and we need to lower food prices in order to make that food more affordable," Dawe says. "The only way to do that is through increased agricultural productivity."

Agricultural Decline

Aid and private investment in the agricultural sector has been declining since the 1980s, the FAO says. In 1980, 17 percent of aid from donor countries went to agriculture. By 2006, the figure had dropped to only 3.8 percent.

Dawe sees the lack of investment as a key factor in the precipitous rise in food prices over the past year or more. Calculations by nutrition expert Grainne Maloney show that a Somali family of six paid $171 per month for food and other basic products in September 2009, compared with $92 only 18 months ago.

Economist Dawe says the 1970s and 1980s saw a lot of investment in agriculture, but what was the result?

"Food prices came down, farmers' productivity went up, so farmers benefitted, poor consumers in urban and rural areas both benefitted. Pretty much everyone benefitted," Dawe says.

"That downward trend in prices has been reversed in this decade, and we need to invest more in agriculture so that we can get farmers' productivity back on track."

The FAO estimates that current food production will have to increase by some 70 percent to feed the world's expected population of 9 billion by 2050.

But there's a big question about how -- or whether -- that can be achieved.

The "Green Revolution" of the 1960s, with its use of fertilizers, pesticides and modern techniques, brought about skyrocketing productivity and enabled the global population to expand by some 3 billion people without the massive starvation some predicted.

But there's no similar agricultural revolution for the present generation.

Experts say water resources are already over-stressed, the best land is already in use, and marginal land is becoming more unreliable as climate change disrupts rainfall and temperature patterns.

with news agencies