Food for a hungry world
Todya we must proclaim a bold objective that within a decade no child will go to bed hungry, that no family will fear for its next day's bread, that no human being's future and capacities will be stunted by malnutrition..."
What has been achieved in the struggle against hunger in the ten years that have elapsed since these brave words were pronounced at the World Food Conference held in Rome in 1974?
The opening article of this issue of the Unesco Courier, based on an independent assessment by an international group of experts, offers a mixed reply. Despite the addition to the global population of nearly one thousand million people, in global terms ample supplies of cereals are available today. Nevertheless, chronic hunger remains a problem for tens of millions of people.
During thepast decade, Asia, where most of the world's undernourished people live, has witnessed a remarkable increase in agricultural production. In Africa, on the other hand, food production has fallen even further behind population needs, particularly in the hunger belt that stretches across the sub-Saharan region.
For Antoine Dak ouré, the key to redressing this situation ties in a more dynamic approach to development aid, a stiffening of political resolve to implement agrarian reform, and a determined effort to gain the wholehearted involvement of agricultural workers without which no real change can occur. This, however, depends upon political guidelines which only the developing countries themselves can decide.
The head of the WorldWatch Institute, Lester Brown, draws attention to two major problems: the risks involved in the world's overwhelming dependence on one region (North America) as a buffer to meet national shortfalls in grain production and the alarming annual loss of some 23,000 million tons of topsoil through erosion, coupled with diminishing returns from additional use of chemical fertilizers.
The first victims of undernourishment and malnutrition are the children of the Third World, yet, as V. Ramalingaswami points out, many of the diseases that afflict them, such as endemic goitre, nutritional blindness and anaemia, could be very simply and inexpensively controlled. In many cases, the problem is one of sheer ignorance of the basic facts of good nutritional practice. In this domain, Unesco's nutrition education programmes are beginning to make their impact felt.
Ironically, the vast majority of the world's undernourished people are to be found among the ruralpoor and are engaged in the production of food. As Paul Lunven of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations suggests, some rural developmentprojects may have been placing too much emphasis on investment in cash crops, to the detriment of the food crops on which rural families depend for their food supply.
On a more optimistic note, Yuri Ovchinnikov outlines some of the more promising achievements in the biological sciences. Recent scientific advances are makingpossible higher crop yields and new and far more productive strains of livestock.
Finally, two broader observations emerge from this assessment of the world food situation. The first is that the countries of the world are now so interdependent that only through international action can poverty and hunger be defeated. The second is that so long as one man, woman or child goes hungry, the scandalous waste of resources on armaments' brings added shame upon us all.