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More than a fourth of sub-Saharan Africans are living in hunger

Wednesday, October 10, 2012    

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ROME, Italy — THE UN's food agency admitted yesterday it was "losing the battle" against hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, where there are 64 million more chronically undernourished people than there

were 20 years ago.

"The situation in Sub-Saharan Africa is a great cause for concern," said Jomo Sundaram, FAO assistant director general, as the Rome-based agency warned that more needs to be done to tackle hunger in the poverty-struck region.

Troubled by political instability and severe food distribution problems, the region has the highest percentage of hungry people in the world, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said in its 2012 report on food insecurity.

"We are losing the battle in sub-Saharan Africa, where the numbers of hungry are up 64 million," FAO head Jose Graziano da Silva said at a press conference.

While global hunger levels on the whole are down to just under 870 million, the number of sufferers in sub-Saharan Africa has shot up from 170 million in 1990-92 to 234 million in 2010-12, affecting some 27 per cent of

the population.

"Many sub-Saharan Africa countries have political and infrastructural problems which hamper distribution of food, particularly those which depend on imports or are affected by price

spikes," said FAO statistician Carlo Cafiero.

"The amount of food that they manage to produce and import is also lower than other regions, meaning there is less food to be had," he said.

While economic growth alone "is unlikely to make a significant impact on hunger reduction", the FAO stressed that agricultural growth

is key.

Carlos Sere, head development strategist at the UN's International Fund for Agricultural development (IFAD), said studies "show growth in the agricultural sector has five times the impact of growth in other sectors (on hunger)".

According to the FAO's 2012 report on food insecurity, agricultural growth reduces poverty among the poorest of the poor — and in sub-Saharan Africa, it is "11 times more effective" than other economic growth projects.

"In agriculture-based economies — most of them in sub-Saharan Africa — agriculture contributes significantly to economic growth," it said. As the poor are mostly concentrated in rural areas, it can also help reduce poverty.

But any push to boost agricultural growth must be inclusive, Sere said, because many food producers

in the affected regions are small holders.

"We have large numbers of people in hunger-struck regions managing their own resources. We need agricultural growth to be based on an inclusive model, a sustainable one," which requires great public and private investment, he said.

"The development model we're talking about is very different from the sort of mass production seen in America and Europe,

but we certainly have the technologies and international organisations to make it happen," he said.

The FAO also stressed that targeting women, as well as small holders, would help fight hunger, "because when women have more control over household income, more money tends to be spent on items that improve nutrition and health".

In September, the United States and other G8 nations announced that they were expanding a programme to lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty and hunger within the next decade.

More than 60 companies pledged some $4 billion (3.09 billion euros) in private business commitments to help build seed, fertiliser or small-scale irrigation firms.

—AFP

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