When United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon spoke about the food crisis in Madrid, Spain, last month, he called it a "forgotten crisis". Ban Ki Moon was not implying that the food crisis was over; nor was he saying that the world was out of the woods, so to say. Rather, he was constrained to point out that, even though eclipsed by the economic crisis, the food crisis was very much there: "It has not gone away" Ban Ki Moon told the delegates at the global food summit: the Madrid meeting on Food Security for All. The meeting attended by UN officials, international agencies, private sector and non government organizations, underlined the need to raise what was termed as the "political profile of hunger and food security" apart from forging strategic partnerships: "We have no time to lose" Ban Ki Moon had then said even as he urged the US, India and China to show the way.
Till the financial crisis, food security was high on the agenda of world leaders and nations. To quote Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, "When the food crisis hit last year, the world came together in the largest emergency response to hunger and malnutrition in human history". Sheeran called for sustaining the initiative to address the food needs of the world's poor.
In 2008, 40 million people were added to the world's malnourished people. According to Jacques Diouf, Director General of United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, (FAO) of the 6.5 billion people who comprise the world population, there are almost one billion people who are hungry. In order to ensure the basic right to food for all, the FAO Director General said for developing countries to double their food production by 2050, an investment of 30 billion dollars per year would be needed only in the agriculture sector.
Recent estimates of FAO indicate that 75 million people were added to the below the hunger threshold due to rising prices in 2007 and another 40 million last year pushing the total number of undernourished people to 963 million.
The cost of food imports for the developing countries shot up 85 percent in the last three years: between 2006 to 2008 to be precise.
It is against this backdrop that UN's member agency International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) will meet in Rome tomorrow. The annual Governing Council meeting will also elect its new President. Its present incumbent Lennart Bage's second and final four year term ends in April this year. The Governing Council is IFAD's highest decision making authority.
The two day meeting will focus on its 164 member states and hear from them how they have tackled the food crisis. More important, the high powered meeting will focus on what needs to be done to ensure that the most vulnerable i.e the rural poor in developing countries, are not forced deeper into poverty.
IFAD has long argued that investment in agriculture needs to be pushed in order to secure food security globally. Agricultural investments have been sliding for decades.
With its member states committed to a 67 percent increase over the previous replenishment, IFAD will provide financing as much as 3.7 billion US dollars for agricultural programmes in developing countries. This it intends to do over the next four years.
Set up thirty years ago to tackle rural poverty, IFAD has a substantial presence in India, with its first success in 1990 with the Tamil Nadu Women's Empowerment project. Later, IFAD funded projects in the North eastern districts of Meghalaya ,Manipur and Assam also helped farmers reorganize land use and improve productivity.