Weekly Comment

A hungry world needs a fit FAO

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Malnutrition, Fao

The crusade to end world hunger has been a bitter failure. But with
the world set to sweep away a crooked food trading system, there is
a chance to get it right - if only we could revive the FAO from
dormancy.

At the 1996 World Food Summit leaders from 186 countries pledged to halve world hunger by 2015. A decade on, there are 18 million more hungry people. Nearly a billion people are without sufficient food. And at current rates it will take 120 years to halve the hungry. This should have made next year's World Food Summit the most important international gathering this decade. But world leaders who participated last time are turning shy about attending at all this time. Instead, the focus has shifted to the WTO. Meeting in Hong Kong in December to further the Doha Trade Round, the WTO is now firmly focused on agricultural reform, and promising benefits for the hungry. Such reform is vital in moving us on from two worlds, of the overfed and the underfed. But resolving hunger is not the WTO's mission. Nor is liberalizing trade the entire answer. Where the WTO's movement should be an aide, it can never, alone, solve world hunger. We need a live FAO, on the job. As it is, the FAO is withering on the vine. Established in 1945 to help a war-ravaged world feed itself, the FAO was built without an emergency response mechanism, and is frustratingly wasteful and inefficient. The organization came second from last in a UK government efficiency league table this year that compared 23 international bodies. But the unopposed 67-year old Jacques Diouf, who begins his third six-year term as director-general next month, has barely been brought to task for this sorry performance. Yet the FAO has immense technical expertise. It understands the mechanisms of hunger better than anyone and knows that establishing partnerships at grassroots level is the only means of achieving the changes on the ground that are vital to ending hunger. This is how hunger must be tackled. And with 98 per cent of the hungry living in developing countries, it will be impossible to resolve the issue without having proper dialogue with those worst affected. The FAO is the only viable forum for this. Global leaders must therefore get their priorities right. This year we've had Tony Blair's Commission for Africa, a G8 summit of rich-country leaders focused on tackling poverty and the forthcoming WTO summit. The fact that such issues are being raised at the G8 and WTO is welcome, but its time to understand that the central arena for this debate is in need of urgent attention. It is not good enough to simply look elsewhere. We need the FAO in better shape, revamped and revitalized. Only then will G8 and WTO accords be translated into some serious alleviation of world hunger. Diouf must reshape the organization to the task before it, or lose his job. Inefficiencies must be swept away to make the FAO more responsive, and an external evaluation of any reforms must be carried out. Too many people have waited too long. Too many campaigners have held off their criticism, fearing to damage an organization that is essentially an ally in achieving something vital. But an ally that has become marginalized is barely an ally at all. Next year's World Food Summit needs to represent a new era in global hunger policy, driven by an FAO that has got its house in order. Anthony Fletcher is the editor of FoodNavigator.com and is a specialist writer on food industry issues. With an international focus, he has lived and worked in the UK, France and Japan. If you would like to comment on this article please e-mail anthony.fletcher@novisgroup.com.

Related topics: Editor's Choice, Ingredients

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