At the World Food Summit in 1996, leaders from 186 countries set
an ambitious goal: to halve the number of hungry people (from about
800 million) by 2015. But progress to date has been slow, and the
recent drought in eastern and southern Africa has cut food production
and rural incomes sharply in these regions, underscoring the urgency
of meeting the Summit's goal.
The World Food Summit aimed to reduce hunger by focusing on its
roots: poverty, low agricultural productivity, environmental degradation,
poorly designed government policies, and, increasingly, AIDS. These
underlying causes are interrelated in many ways. Ironically, most
hungry people live in rural areas, where food is produced. But a
variety of factors combine to limit their productivity, incomes,
and wealth-and thus their ability to produce or acquire food.
The productivity of farming systems is eroded in some areas by
inappropriate land management practices. In Sub-Saharan Africa,
for example, fertilizer use is well below levels applied in other
regions, and soil fertility is declining. As a result, crop yields
are stagnant in many Sub-Saharan African countries despite investment
in yield-increasing technology. This situation could worsen because
of the spread of AIDS, which threatens the health, productivity,
and lives of working-age people, the most economically important
segment of the population.
Government policies in low-income countries sometimes exacerbate
these problems. Investment in these countries is often low and doesn't
always reach rural areas. Farmers are often poorly connected to
urban markets because of the lack of roads. This isolation raises
the price of inputs (such as fertilizer), limits market participation,
prevents the rural poor from taking advantage of economic growth,
and increases income disparities between urban and rural areas.
Additionally, lack of investment in rural social services, including
education, health care, and social safety nets, creates a cycle
of poverty and hunger that contributes to low productivity in the
Short-term production shocks and political instability further
intensify hunger. Poor countries faced with such shocks must focus
their policies and resources on dealing with short-term emergencies,
thereby constraining progress toward a long-term, sustainable reduction
in hunger. The current drought-induced famines that threaten millions
in eastern and southern Africa illustrate the gravity of this problem.
Because of these problems, ERS estimates that the number of hungry
people in low-income developing countries has actually increased
in recent years, to 1.1 billion in 2002. Reversing this trend and
restoring progress toward the World Food Summit's goal will require
increased efforts to encourage appropriate policies, political stability,
and investment in both infrastructure and people.
This article is drawn from...
Assessment, GFA-14, by Shahla Shapouri, Stacey Rosen, Birgit
Meade, Michael Trueblood, Margaret Andrews, Mark Nord, and Suresh
Persaud, February 2003.