Rome — Conflict, recurrent drought and volatile food prices have countries in Africa and the Near East in a hunger trap, although there is a way out, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva told the International Conference on Food Security in Drylands today in Doha, Qatar.
The two-day conference brings together government, academia, development agencies and banks, civil society and the private sector from 60 countries to discuss food security, water and investment in dryland countries.
It will come up with recommendations for action in the three areas to feed into future policies, strategies and investments to boost agricultural production to enhance food security and increase resilience to future prices shocks.
"We are losing the battle against hunger in Africa and the Near East," Graziano da Silva told the conference, pointing out that the number of hungry people in the regions has increased by 83 million to 275 million since the early 1990s.
"Natural resources degradation in dryland countries threatens more than two billion people," Graziano da Silva warned.
He called upon the international community to work closely with dryland countries to break the cycle of hunger, highlighting the need to:
Improve information on drylands to support sustainable management of land and water resources.
Scale up the sustainable intensification of agriculture and adapt production to climate change.
Build resilience in rural communities and increase responsible investments in agriculture and rural development.
Strengthen global food security governance, building on the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), the intergovernmental food policy body.
"Perhaps the most pressing issue being debated today is investments in agriculture," he said, adding that investments needed to "respect the rights, livelihoods and resources of all those involved, especially the most vulnerable".
The FAO Director-General said views on investment expressed at the conference would feed into a two-year global consultation process that will be carried out in the framework of the Committee on Food Security to develop principles for responsible investment in agriculture.
"At the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Conference held last June, the world leaders sent out a clear message that development will not be sustainable while hundreds of millions continue to be excluded, suffering from hunger and extreme poverty," said Graziano da Silva.
"If we can find sustainable ways to ensure food security in dryland areas, then we will be well on our way to achieving a 'zero hunger' world," he concluded.
The International Conference on Food Security in Drylands is organized by the Qatar National Food Security Programme with the support of FAO and other international and regional organizations.