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Food and Agriculture

Progress in Reducing Hunger ‘Tragically Slow’

WASHINGTON, October 11, 2012 (IPS) – At least 20 countries are currently at either “alarming” or “extremely alarming” levels of hunger, according to new research released here on Thursday.

World hunger has diminished somewhat since 1990 but remains a significant problem in many regions, according to the new Global Hunger Index released by the International Food Policy Research Institute(IFPRI), based here in Washington. IFPRI is a centre that seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty.

“Hunger has declined and we have made progress, but it remains serious,” Claudia Ringler, co-author of the report, told journalists Thursday.

The index is the seventh in a series presenting a multifaceted measure of global, regional and national hunger levels. The index weighs three indicators equally: undernourishment, levels of underweight children, and child mortality.

According to IFPRI, “The report shows that progress in reducing the proportion of hungry people in the world has been tragically slow.”

Haiti, Burundi and Eritrea top the index with “extremely alarming” levels of hunger. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia continue to be the regions suffering from the highest hunger levels.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is not listed as “extremely alarming”, in contrast to previous years, but only because there was insufficient data available to calculate the country’s score on the index.

Seventeen other countries are listed as having “alarming” hunger levels. India was included in this list with the same hunger level from which the country suffered in 1996.

This year, the report placed particular focus on the unsustainable uses of land, water and energy as drivers of food insecurity. “Hunger is inextricably linked to growing pressure on land, water, and energy resources,” the report stated.

The researchers highlighted reasons for natural resource scarcity, including changes in rural and urban demographics, higher incomes and unsustainable resource consumption, as well as poor policies in conjunction with weak institutions.

Ringler also emphasised natural resource dependency. “The poor rely almost exclusively on natural resources for their well-being,” she said. “Therefore they have been particularly harmed by changes in the climate and the scarcity that creates.”

Such dependency makes it even more necessary to ensure good and sustainable practices with resources such as land, water and energy.

“The stark reality is that the world needs to produce more food with fewer resources, while eliminating wasteful practices and policies,” IFPRI stated.

To tackle this reality, the Global Hunger Index report laid out several policy recommendations on how to use land, water and energy to build sustainable food security. One of the recommendations was to secure local land and water rights.

These rights are at risk because in recent years, higher food and oil prices and the scarcity of farmland have increased the number of international agricultural land deals, particularly in regions where land is relatively inexpensive, such as Sub-Saharan Africa. One result of these deals is greater food insecurity.

Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe, both humanitarian groups that co-sponsored the Global Health Index report, have partnered with farmers in Sierra Leone and Tanzania to try to keep agricultural land in the hands of local farmers.

“Large-scale foreign investments in land should be closely monitored,” Welthungerhilfe President Bärbel Dieckmann said Thursday. “Local organisations are needed to secure transparency and the participation of smallholder farmers whose livelihoods are impacted by land deals.”

Tanzania has proven to be a successful and important case study to which other countries can potentially look as a model.

“In Tanzania, one million people are food insecure, most of whom are farmers. Yet only 10 percent of Tanzanian farmers hold an official title to their land,” Tom Arnold, Concern’s CEO, told journalists.

Concern has been working with the Tanzanian government to provide a new land title, a certificate stating the Right to Occupancy, to over 10,000 farmers. This gives farmers the opportunity to write down the names of their family members who while continue to care for the land when they die.

If farmers have legal rights to their lands, supporters suggest, they will be more likely to invest in and improve the land, in order to see a larger crop produced year after year. On the other hand, if land is not legally owned by a farmer, researchers point to data that suggests it is often sold by the government to external investors.

“Agricultural production must increase substantially to meet the demands of a growing and increasingly wealthy population,” Arnold continued. “Yet to avoid more stress on land, water, and energy resources, and to ensure that all have access to adequate food, that production must be sustainable and must prioritise the poor.”

The report also recommended that governments phase out inefficient subsidies on water, energy and fertilisers.

“Subsidies are a short-term solution that don’t reach the entire population and can cost governments far more than their budgets can sustain,” Ringler explained, citing Malawi as an example.

Other recommendations included scaling up technical solutions, creating a macroeconomic environment that promotes efficient use of national resources, and taming the drivers of national resource scarcity.

“Food security under land, water, and energy stress poses daunting challenges,” the index stated. “But this report shows how we can meet these challenges  in a sustainable and affordable way.”

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