The people and the productivity of the land and water are the two greatest resources in most poor, food-insecure countries. Without investments in both people and productivity, chronic hunger and poverty cannot be reversed. People need investments in education, clean water supplies, and health and social services and, in some cases, direct food and nutrition support. In rural areas, such expenditures are essential if the corresponding investments in agriculture and its productive subcompartments are to pay off.
Reducing hunger not only has a humanitarian justification but also a strong economic rationale. The economic cost of hunger and malnutrition, resulting in lost productivity, illness, and death, is extremely high. Undernourishment significantly lowers physical ability, cognitive development, and learning achievement. It not only blights the lives of individuals and families but also reduces the return on investment in social and economic progress.
A recent study sponsored by the FAO examined 110 countries from 1960 to 1990 using statistical techniques to investigate the links between economic growth and nutritional well-being. The results showed that if all countries with average DES below the minimum requirement in 1960 had eliminated hunger by raising average per capita DES to 2770 Kcal per day, their gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates would have been significantly higher. This growth can be quite large. Per capita GDP in sub-Saharan Africa could have reached levels of US $1000 to US $3500 by 1990 if undernourishment had been eliminated. Instead, the region's average GDP per capita in 1990 was just US $800 per year (Fig. 6). The FAO's projections for the next 15 years indicate that, if agricultural innovation continues at a reasonable rate,
Fig. 6. Gross domestic product (GDP) (mean $ US per capita) in sub-Saharan Africa and estimates assuming no undernourishment. (Data from )
food production can increase by 2% per year in the developing world. Without this growth, the goals set out by the World Food Summit cannot be met. But overall growth is not enough - it must be directed to the hungriest.
For countries that are still largely rural, investment in small-scale agriculture is one way to target growth that benefits the poor. The importance of putting resources into the agricultural research in production and post-production processes is now well recognised. Funding for agricultural research is particularly vital for commodities and farming systems that can provide growth opportunities for the poor.
Even if the anticipated growth in food production is achieved, nearly 600 million people will remain undernourished in 2015, unless the growth takes place in areas where food insecurity is worst and public policies are implemented that make elimination of food insecurity their primary objective.
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