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SANTIAGO DE CHILE, May 30 2011 (IPS) - Lula launched the Zero Hunger Programme when he assumed the Brazilian presidency in January 2003, pledging that every Brazilian would be able to eat three meals a day.

I had led the team that prepared the programme and then was entrusted by Lula with running it, as his Minister for Food Security and the Fight against Hunger. The results of the development model that was jump-started by Zero Hunger are highly visible: in only five years 24 million people have been lifted from extreme poverty and undernourishment in Brazil fell by 25%.

Brazil is not only growing, but more people are benefitting from growth. This broader social and economic inclusion is the main reason why the country weathered the recent crises in better shape than others.

Eight years after the launch of Zero Hunger, Brazil has nominated me as a candidate for election as next Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). In setting out my priorities for FAO, I have given top priority to eradicating hunger in the world. I know that it is an entirely feasible goal.

The second pillar of my platform is to promote a shift to truly sustainable food production systems so that we leave in good condition the natural resources ­soil, water, biodiversity, climate- that are needed to provide food for our children and grandchildren. As a third pillar, I want to see FAO and other international agencies ensure greater fairness in the management of the global food system.

Some people ask me how I can propose such an ambitious agenda when the world is embroiled in a mix of grave crises ­high oil and food prices, slow economic growth, looming threats of climate change, shortages of land and water, and so on. I believe that ending hunger, putting food production on a sustainable footing and improving global governance are part of the solution to these crises.

Eating is such a fundamental aspect of our existence, that I find it strange that anyone should question the wisdom of proposing that FAO ­which was set up in 1945 to end hunger­ should do all in its power to help ensure that everyone can eat 3 meals a day. But today almost 1,000 million people ­one in seven of the earth’s inhabitants­ are still chronically hungry.

This is not because there is no food but because these people do not earn enough to pay for the food they need. They live in a hunger trap from which escape through their own means alone is virtually impossible.

As anyone who misses a few meals knows, hunger makes the body weak and diminishes concentration. Long-term hunger has dire effects. It prevents adults from working, even if they want to, and it stops children from learning at school. Undernourished persons are more susceptible to disease and their life expectancy drops. If a mother is hungry during pregnancy and cannot provide enough food for her babies before their second birthday, they will be disadvantaged for all their lives.

A widely-held view is that people are hungry through their own fault. However, most people who suffer from hunger are the inadvertent victims of global and national economic growth processes that have the side-effect of widening the gap between rich and poor.

We now know that investing in hunger eradication, especially through programmes that provide extremely poor families with regular and predictable grants to allow them to eat adequately, is not charity but a high-yield investment, and the yield is even greater when women take control of the grants. This type of social protection enables people to stand on their own feet, and introduces the processes of economic growth where they are most needed, in the poorest communities.

Translating unmet food needs into demand can stimulate local production, especially by small-scale farmers, if they receive adequate support to turn their potential productivity in actual gains. Public action is key to making this happen.

Having dedicated myself to rural development for over three decades, I know that increasing production in poor rural communities of developing countries has many positive spill-over effects.

Like many other people, I view access to adequate food as a human right.

As an economist, I also know that fulfilling that right for hundreds of millions of people will not only end needless suffering on a vast scale but also herald a new age of prosperity throughout the world and contribute to lasting peace.

This is not mere wishful thinking. With my own eyes I have seen what has happened in countries that have taken the hunger problem seriously. Ask any Ghanaian, Vietnamese, or Brazilian about the impact of their anti-hunger programmes, and I am sure that they will confirm my impressions. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Jose Graziano da Silva, architect of the Zero Hunger Program, former Brazilian Minister of Food Security and Fight Against Hunger, FAO Regional Representative and Assistant Director-General for Latin America and the Caribbean, is Brazil’s candidate for the next Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation www.grazianodasilva.org

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