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Tuesday, March 13, 2012
From Print Edition


KARACHI: With food prices twice as high as a decade ago, feeding nearly 600 million people suffering from hunger and malnutrition in the Asia-Pacific region is becoming more difficult, according to the regional representative of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, which opened a major regional conference in Hanoi, an FAO statement said on Monday.


“Eradicating hunger has become more complex and challenging in this region,” Hiroyuki Konuma, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative of FAO, told over 300 delegates, representatives and observers from 38 countries.


Rising and volatile food prices, climate change impacts, frequent natural disasters, trade policies, soaring crude oil prices and the growing use of food crops for biofuels are factors complicating the fight against hunger, Konuma said.


“Food security and poverty reduction are relevant and urgent issues as 65 percent of those living in hunger and poverty in the world are in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Viet Nam’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat in his opening remarks to the bi-annual FAO regional conference.


The Asia-Pacific region is home to 578 million of the world’s 925 million people who are malnourished, representing almost no change in the absolute number of hungry people in 20 years despite rapid economic growth in most countries. Of that total, 91 percent live in just six countries: India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines.


Hunger and malnutrition are responsible for the deaths of roughly 3.3 million children under the age of five each year. To feed the projected world population in 2050, sustainable food production will have to increase by 60 percent globally, and by 77 percent in developing countries.


Accomplishing that “will require huge investments in the agricultural sector,” Konuma said, with funds devoted to research and infrastructure development, agricultural extension, training, post-harvest loss reduction, and effective and sustainable natural resource management.


Equally important will be a paradigm shift in food production advocated by FAO that promotes agricultural diversification, conservation of natural resources and working in greater harmony with ecosystems.


Polices also matter, including promotion of pro-poor agriculture and rural development, strengthening farmer cooperatives and organizations along with inclusive development, especially for women and solidarity within and between the countries.