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Christus Rex Information Service

Special Report

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Conference
Rome - November 1996

REUTER INFORMATION CENTER - Wednesday 13 November 1996

Pope, opening World Food Summit, deplores gap between rich and poor

Copyright © 1996
Copyright © 1996 Reuter Information Service

ROME (Nov 13, 1996 09:01 a.m. EST) - Pope John Paul called on world leaders on Wednesday to bridge the gulf between rich and poor, telling a U.N.-sponsored World Food Summit it was "intolerable" that some people starved while others lived in opulence.

He told delegates attending the 194-nation summit to make every effort to "eliminate the specter of hunger from the planet" or future generations would face the consequences.

"We have to search together for solutions so that there are no longer hungry people living side by side with people living in opulence," he said in his French-language speech. "This contrast between poverty and wealth is intolerable for humanity."

In a clear reference to eastern Zaire, the Pope said he felt close to "refugees forced to leave their countries and too often left without assistance."

The 76-year-old Pope also took a swipe at those who say that the key to food security is population control, an issue which pitted the Vatican against the United States in a heated battle at the U.N. population conference in Cairo in 1994.

"Demography alone does not explain the inadequate distribution of food resources. We must put aside the sophist view that when there are many, one is condemned to be poor," the Pope said.

"A numerous population can become the source of development because it implies the exchange and demand of goods," he said.

The Pope, who has strongly defended the right of couples to have as many children as they want, said that while every family had duties and responsibilities a state's population policies had to respect individual human rights.

"It would be illusory to believe that an arbitrary stabilization of the world population, or even its reduction, could solve the problem of hunger directly," he said.

The Pope said the world had to recognize that the real reasons behind food insecurity was not lack of resources but often political instability, war, money spent for weapons, and an international debt that shackled developing countries.

He also said food insecurity was sometimes caused by "embargoes imposed without sufficient reasoning."

The Vatican has in the past criticized embargoes imposed on Cuba and Iraq, saying they hurt the poor most.

The Pope, repeating the theme of a recent Vatican document on hunger, said there was enough food to feed everyone in the world but other factors failed to get it to the people.

"Leaders, economists and everyone of goodwill must look for every possible way of sharing more equitably resources which are not lacking," he said. "By sharing in this way, everyone will demonstrate their sense of fraternity."

He bluntly told the leaders that "nothing will change at the world level" if their governments failed to follow up the commitments set up in the summit's plan of action.

It contains a specific pledge to reduce the number of undernourished people in the world to half the present level of 840 million by no later than the year 2015.

The Pope decried economic policies based solely on the desire for profit and said the world must reach a point where food security was an inextricable factor of world peace.

"All of this is insufficient if we do not also strive to educate people towards justice, solidarity and the love of man, joined together in brotherhood," he said.

V.I.S. - Wednesday 13 November 1996


VATICAN CITY, NOV 13, 1996 (VIS) - Pope John Paul spoke this morning in Rome to the delegations of the 194 countries participating in the four-day World Food Summit, organized by the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization, and encouraged them to persevere in their efforts to relieve hunger in the world, stressing the obligations of rich countries towards poorer ones.

The Pope arrived shortly before the 9:30 a.m. opening ceremony and was greeted by Jacques Diouf, FAO director general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, UN secretary-general, Romano Prodi, president of the Council of Ministers of Italy and Queen Noor Al Hussein of Jordan.

Citing FAO analyses, he recalled that there are "more than 800 million persons who still suffer from malnutrition. ... We must seek solutions together, so that there will no longer be, side by side, persons who are starving and others who live in opulence, very poor persons and very rich ones, persons who lack necessities and others who waste excessively. Such contrasts between poverty and wealth are unbearable for mankind."

What is needed, said the Holy Father, is "the firm and persevering determination to work for the common good," as well as a change "in mentalities and habits concerning lifestyles and relations with resources and goods. ... Nothing will change ... (unless) economic and food policies are founded not only on profit but also on sharing in solidarity."

"One must renounce," affirmed John Paul II, "the sophism which says that 'being numerous means being condemned to be poor.' ... Man can modify situations and respond to growing needs. ... A numerous population can be seen as a source of development because it implies exchanges and a demand for goods. That does not mean, evidently, that demographic growth can be unlimited. ... But it would be illusory to believe that an arbitrary stabilization of the world population, or even its reduction, could directly resolve the problem of hunger."

The Pope indicated that conflicts, the suffocating weight of debt, refugees forced to leave their homelands and "populations who are victims of embargoes imposed without sufficient discernment" are among the leading causes of hunger in the world.

He then compared what is invested "in the agricultural and food sector" to "the sums used for arms and superfluous expenses habitually practiced in the most developed countries." He stressed that choices must be made "to free important means so as to guarantee the majority of countries food security, a factor in peace."

The Holy Father observed that "the propositions contained in the Plan of Action aim at assuring ... a just sharing of productive property, the promotion of associative or cooperative agricultural activity, as well as protection of market access, benefitting country populations. ... All that would certainly be insufficient if efforts in the service of educating persons to justice, to solidarity and to the love of every man, who is a brother, were not added."

John Paul II recalled that in his 1994 Apostolic Letter "Tertio Millennio Adveniente," he had suggested "concrete initiatives of international solidarity" in preparing for the Year 2000. He repeated one such initiative, that regarding the "reducing substantially, if not cancelling outright the international debt which seriously threatens the future of many nations."

In conclusion, the Pope said that "good will and generous policies must stimulate man's inventiveness" in order "to favor a more equitable sharing of food resources which, thanks to God and man's work, are not lacking today nor will they be lacking tomorrow."

V.I.S. - Wednesday 13 November 1996


VATICAN CITY, NOV 13, 1996 (VIS) - In today's general audience in the Paul VI Hall, John Paul II said: "I hope from the bottom of my heart that the next few days' reflection at the World Food Summit will lead to effective initiatives for a solution to the disconcerting drama of hunger in the world."

At the beginning of the audience, which was delayed due to the Pope's visit earlier this morning to FAO headquarters in Rome, the Holy Father reminded the pilgrims present of the "tragic condition" of more than 800 million hungry people in the world.

"It is necessary," he added, "to realize, with urgency, all possible efforts to eliminate the scandal of the coexistence of people lacking even what is necessary and others overflowing with what is superfluous. May it be God's will that, thanks to the contribution of those responsible for Nations and volunteer organizations, and of every person of good will, the commitment to solidarity with constant attention to the neediest may grow on each continent."

"While I was speaking this morning," he continued, "I felt in a particularly keen way in my heart the tragedy of the Rwandan and Burundian refugees and the populations of Kivu in Zaire, victims of the inhumane logic of inter-ethnic conflicts. It is a drama that is constantly present in my spirit. How can one remain indifferent in the face of people who have by now reached the extreme, while they could help themselves to food and first aid medicine, amassed in large quantities not far from them?"

"I renew a heartfelt appeal to the consciences and responsibility of all the parties involved and of the entire international community, so that - without doubt - they will go to the aid of those brothers and sisters. The offense to their lives and their dignity is an offense against God, whose image each human being carries within him. No uncertainty, no pretext, no calculation will ever be able to justify, ever, a further delay in humanitarian assistance!"

John Paul II prayed at the end that the blood spilled by so many innocents may serve to "conquer hate" and that "on the beloved African continent an era of mutual respect and fraternal embrace may arise."

A.N.S.A. - Wednesday 13 November 1996


(ANSA) - Rome, November 13 - Pope John Paul II opened his inaugural address for the World Food Summit here today with a blistering attack on supporters of birth control as a way of resolving the world's hunger crisis.
''We must renounce the sophism which says 'by being many, we are condemned to be poor','' said the Pope. ''Through his action Man can change the situation, and respond to the growing needs''.
The pontiff said a numerous world population could be a source of development, because it implied increased trade and demand for goods.
He acknowledged that ''demographic growth cannot be limitless'', but insisted that it was individual families which had the ultimate duties and responsibilities in this field.
''The demographic policies of a country must respect the dignity of human nature and the fundamental rights of people,'' he stressed.
Turning to the reasons why around 800 million people are hungry today, the Pope drew attention to war and the problem of refugees which it often produced.
He went on to criticise trade embargoes, which he said were an inadequate way of resolving international disputes because they only succeeded in making innocent people suffer all the more.
''It is enough to think of the countries devastated by conflicts of every kind...or of the refugees forced to abandon their homes, and often left without aid, or the populations that labour under enbargoes imposed without sufficient discernment,'' he said.
John Paul renewed his call to developed nations to write off all, or part, of the debt owed them by the third world. International debt, he said, is weighing on the destiny of numerous countries.
''For its part the Church has decided to push forward with efforts to illuminate those who must take these decisions, so laden with consequences,'' he said.

V.I.S. - Wednesday 13 November 1996


VATICAN CITY, NOV 13, 1996 (VIS) - The "Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children" was the topic of the address delivered yesterday in New York by Archbishop Renato Martino, Holy See permanent observer to the United Nations, before the Third Committee of the 51st Session of the UN General Assembly.

The archbishop said this topic is "a concern which, over the millennia to the present day, has led the Catholic Church to be one of the primary providers of care for children throughout the world."

He focussed his remarks on the report before the Committee on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, and highlighted "the ramifications of children's war-caused suffering for the future of their societies. ... Children must thrive if we are to hope for a better future." Archbishop Martino recalled the report's "grim statistics of the millions of children who have either died or continue to suffer the ravages of man's inhumanity to man."

The nuncio also spoke of "the other innumerable tragedies facing children ... the sale of children and their sexual exploitation, including child prostitution and child pornography; the exploitation of children through child labor; the plight of street children and of innocent children suffering and dying from HIV/AIDS; and the tragedy of refugee and internally displaced children."

A.N.S.A. - Wednesday 13 November 1996


(ANSA) - Rome, November 13 - Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro dedicated a large part of his speech at the opening of the World Food Summit to the unfolding disaster in Zaire, chastising the west in general, and the UN security council in particular, for ''standing back and watching''.
The images of a never-ending river of hungry, suffering refugees in eastern Zaire gives the measure of our so-called civil society, he said.
''Are we waiting for the massacre to finish, before we step in and establish peace peace among the countless dead and the few hopeless survivors?'' he asked.
Scalfaro accused the UN, which has still to decide whether to send an intervention force to Zaire, of lacking ''a soul of pity, of justice'' and the will to ''fulfil a duty of civilisation''.
He also raised the disturbing spectre of the world's industrial and business powers watching ''as the most terrifying massacres are consumed'', calculating what economic gains they could draw, when the dust settled.
The apparent paralysis of the world community over the emergency in Zaire was a powerful spur to make sure that this World Food Conference did not simply become an arid bureaucratic affair, he said.
''It is unacceptable that still today over 800 million people are not in a condition to satisfy basic nutritional necessities.
''It is unacceptable for us heads of state and government, we who are responsible for the life of the international community; and it is even more unacceptable on a level of moral responsibility.''
The world's hungry are waiting for concrete measures, not documents and declarations, he said.
''More than 800 million people are asking, with their suffering and the many innocent deaths, for our dutiful response.''

REUTER INFORMATION CENTER - Wednesday 13 November 1996

World Food Summit pledges to fight hunger

Copyright © 1996
Copyright © 1996 Reuter Information Service

ROME (Nov 13, 1996 09:01 a.m. EST) - A U.N.-sponsored World Food Summit adopted a plan on Wednesday aimed at halving the number of people who suffer chronic hunger and malnutrition from the present 840 million by the year 2015.

The commitment was contained in a Declaration on World Food Security and a Plan of Action on how to achieve food for all that was approved by acclamation at the first working session of the 194-nation, five-day summit.

The declaration was finalized by member nations of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization prior to the start of the five-day summit and formally adopted at the start of the conference in Rome.

FAO director general Jacques Diouf said that by approving the declaration in advance, delegates had the opportunity "for the first time in the history of United Nations summits" to focus on actions rather than words.

"You (have) the opportunity to focus not on reaching consensus but on identifying the concrete actions that each intends to conduct so that the commitments solemnly made before the international community can be maintained," Diouf said.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, appointed chairman of the summit, told the gathering that it had adopted an historic document of crucial significance for the future of humanity.

A senior summit official said an unspecified number of countries had submitted written "reservations and interpretative statements" regarding the documents. He did not elaborate.

FAO, which is holding the summit, says the world will need to produce 75 percent more food in the next 30 years to feed three billion additional mouths as the population jumps from 5.7 billion to 8.7 billion by 2030.

A ministerial World Food Conference in 1974 pledged to wipe out hunger within 10 years. But nearly 14 percent of the world's population is still without food.

Diouf has called the new target reasonable and achievable.

U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said in a speech that 200 million children under the age of five were suffering malnutrition and food shortages.

"This is inadmissible," he told the summit.

"It is totally unacceptable to see certain parts of the world staggering under an abundance of food, while other parts lack essential foodstuffs.

"It is quite intolerable to see certain countries wasting or destroying food, whereas others cannot provide their children with even elementary needs," Boutros-Ghali said.

"The problem of hunger is not only a problem of production. It is also a problem of distribution."

Diouf, who is from Senegal, urged leaders in a speech at the opening ceremony to make sure they lived up to the commitments they made in the documents, which are not legally binding.

"These so commendable international decisions risk turning sour if, when taking stock in a few years time, we see that hopes have been dashed, unless measures are taken here and now to mould these decisions into national projects and programs," he said.

REUTER INFORMATION CENTER - Wednesday 13 November 1996

Highlights of World Food Summit declaration

Copyright © 1996
Copyright © 1996 Reuter Information Service

ROME (Nov 13, 1996 09:01 a.m. EST) - The World Food Summit in Rome adopted a declaration and plan of action on how to work to end hunger when it opened on Wednesday.

The two texts were agreed in advance and were adopted by acclamation at the first session of the five-day meeting at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

A senior summit official said a number of reservations about the documents had been received from some countries but did not elaborate.

Following are highlights of the Declaration and the seven commitments leaders made in the 22-page Plan of Action. They are not legally binding documents, the FAO says.


We, the heads of state and government or our representatives...reaffirm the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger.

We pledge our political will and our common and national commitment to achieving food security for all and to an ongoing effort to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015.

We consider it intolerable that more than 800 million people throughout the world, and particularly in developing countries, do not have enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs. This situation is unacceptable....

We reaffirm that a peaceful, stable and enabling political, social and economic environment is the essential foundation which will enable States to give adequate priority to food security and poverty eradication. Democracy, promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, and the full and equal participation of men and women are essential for achieving sustainable food security for all.

Poverty is a major cause of food insecurity and sustainable progress in poverty eradication is critical to improve access to food. Conflict, terrorism, corruption and environmental degradation also contribute significantly to food insecurity. Increased food production, including staple food, must be undertaken. This should happen within the framework of sustainable management of natural resources, elimination of unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, particularly in industrialised countries, and early stabilisation of the world population...

Attaining food security is a complex task for which the primary responsibility rests with individual governments...

Food should not be used as an instrument for political and economic pressure. We reaffirm the importance of international cooperation and solidarity as well as the necessity of refraining from unilateral measures, not in accordance with the international law and the Charter of the United Nations and that endanger food security...

We must encourage generation of employment and incomes, and promote equitable access to productive and financial resources. We agree that trade is a key element in achieving food security. We agree to pursue food trade and overall trade policies that will encourage our producers and consumers to utilise available resources in an economically sound and sustainable manner...

We are determined to make efforts to mobilise and optimise the allocation and utilisation of technical and financial resources from all sources, including external debt relief for developing countries, to reinforce national actions to implement sustainable food security policies.


1. We will ensure an enabling political, social and economic environment designed to create the best conditions for the eradication of poverty and for durable peace, based on full and equal participation of women and men, which is most conducive to achieving sustainable food security for all.

2. We will implement policies aimed at eradicating poverty and inequality and improving physical and economic access by all, at all times, to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe food and its effective utilisation.

3. We will pursue participatory and sustainable food, agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development policies and practices...which are essential to adequate and reliable food supplies at the household, national, regional and global levels, and combat pests, drought and desertification, considering the multifunctional character of agriculture.

4. We will strive to ensure that food, agricultural trade and overall trade policies are conducive to fostering food security for all through a fair and market-oriented world trade system.

5. We will endeavour to prevent and be prepared for natural disasters and man-made emergencies and to meet transitory and emergency food requirements in ways that encourage recovery, rehabilitation, development and a capacity to satisfy future needs.

6. We will promote optimal allocation and use of public and private investments to foster human resources, sustainable food, agriculture, fisheries and forestry systems, and rural development...

7. We will implement, monitor and follow up this plan of action at all levels in cooperation with the international community.

TIMES OF LONDON - Wednesday 13 November 1996

Food summiteers vow to reduce world hunger in next 20 years

Copyright © 1996
Copyright © 1996 Times of London

ROME (Nov 13, 1996 6:48 p.m. EST) -- The United Nations World Food Summit Wednesday vowed to fight famine by halving the number of hungry and malnourished people within 20 years, but the declaration was overshadowed by the more immediate crisis in Zaire, which has been forced on to the agenda.

Boutros Boutros Ghali, the U.N. Secretary-General, issued an emotional plea for "collective help" for more than a million refugees "facing certain death" in eastern Zaire.

The five-day summit is being attended by 194 nations, but only 50 are represented by heads of state or government. The Food and Agriculture Organization, which is hosting the meeting at its palatial headquarters in Rome, had hoped for at least 100. Few Western leaders are attending, apart from Alain Juppe, the French Prime Minister.

The summit, the culmination of two and a half years' preparation, has been marked by what the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera called "organizational chaos and Levantine confusion."

Professor Romano Prodi, the Italian Prime Minister, was elected chairman, with President Castro of Cuba, who is expected to arrive Thursday, as one of six deputies. Castro is due to meet the Pope, paving the way for a papal visit to Havana. In an apparent nod to Cuba, the Pope, who opened the summit, criticized "trade embargoes imposed without sufficient reasoning."

The gathering adopted a declaration deploring the use of food "as an instrument for political and economic pressure" and enshrining "the right of everyone to access to safe and nutritious food." It undertook to halve the number of hungry people from the present 840 million by 2015. FAO officials said that some delegates had submitted "written reservations" but gave no details.

Zaire was not on the summit agenda, but is to be addressed Thursday. Dr. Boutros Ghali said: "From this platform, from this Eternal City, I make a solemn appeal to peoples and states to take part -- all of them -- in the collective action we will undertake in the Great Lakes region to help men, women and children who have lost everything and who face certain death unless they receive immediate assistance."

Clearly angered by suggestions that the summit was a "talking shop" organized by an overfed U.N. bureaucracy, Jacques Diouf, the FAO Director-General, said the agency's budget was "less than what nine developed countries spend on dog and cat food in six days, and less than 5 percent of what the inhabitants of just one developed country spend on slimming products every year."

REUTER INFORMATION CENTER - Wednesday 13 November 1996

Summit goal on hunger needs bio-breakthrough

Copyright © 1996
Copyright © 1996 The Christian Science Monitor

BOSTON (Nov 13, 1996 09:01 a.m. EST) -- Leaders from 100 nations meet in Rome this week to pledge their nations' help to cut in half the number of undernourished people around the world in the next two decades.

The world's farmers are scurrying to keep pace with a growing number of mouths to feed. But the number of hungry is only slowly shrinking, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Without concerted action, the UN agency estimates that 680 million people will still be counted among the ranks of the malnourished in 2015 - only a 19 percent decline from today's 840 million.

The meeting comes at a time when research aimed at helping farmers in less-developed countries is shifting emphasis.

In the past, specialists say, research has focused on improving high-value foods such as wheat, corn, or rice. These crops favor large-scale growers who planted single crops. While research to improve these commodities will continue, more effort is being focused on the problems facing farmers with fewer acres.

In the past 30 years, "We've more than doubled the yield of major commodities by learning how to make plants more responsive to external inputs, such as fertilizer," says Alex McCalla, director of the World Bank's Agriculture and Natural Resources Department.

As if to underscore the point, the US Department of Agriculture Nov. 12 raised its forecast for the US corn and soybean crops. It estimates that this year's corn harvest will come in at 9.27 billion bushels, the third-largest on record, while soybeans, at 2.4 billion bushels, would be the second-largest harvest for that commodity ever.

"A significant increase in (world) output," Mr. McCalla continues, "also came from expanding the number of irrigated acres. But there aren't many places left to expand into. So the problem becomes: How can you double yields again on the same area of land" and in a more environmentally benign way?

Cross-breeding, biotechnology

This question is prompting researchers to pay closer attention to finding ways to help farmers get the most out of local resources. "This is a real change in research philosophy," Mr. McCalla says. "Most of the developing world's agriculture is in complex farming systems (where) in a 2-hectare (5 acre) plot you may see sweet potatoes, yams, cassavas, and bananas."

Referring to the success of the Green Revolution, "now we have to figure out the more difficult problems of dry-land production," says Peter McPherson, the president of Michigan State University, who served as administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) from 1981 to 1987.

Some approaches using local resources, such as finding the most effective way to recycle nutrients into the soil, may be simple. "I've just come back from Malawi," McCalla says, "where farmers have a heavy investment in livestock. But they don't compost or use the manure as fertilizer."

Other approaches are more complex. Scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute, based in Nairobi, Kenya, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, have crossed an Ethiopian breed of cow with breeds from Europe. The result: a heftier cow that can pull plows and perform other heavy tasks without reducing its ability to calve and give milk.

Biotechnology holds the potential to speed the development of crops more forgiving of pests and harsh conditions. For example, a plant geneticist at the US Department of Agriculture's Plant Genetics Research Unit in Columbia, Mo., last month reported finding a gene in rye that carries the code for a protein that prevents the plant's roots from absorbing aluminum, a toxin in acidic soil.

Acidic soil is widespread in the tropics, accounting for 51 percent of the land in Latin America, 38 percent in Africa, and 27 percent in Asia, according to the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a 52-nation consortium sponsored by the World Bank and three UN agencies. Incorporating rye's anti-aluminum gene into wheat could extend its range into now unusable tropical grasslands.

Scientists at CGIAR's 16 agricultural research centers worldwide have produced higher yields in a variety of crops, underscoring the way research has helped feed the hungry during the past two decades. For example:

-- Rice. Yields have grown from 2.3 million metric tons per hectare to 3.6 million metric tons, a 56 percent increase.

Now scientists at the group's International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines are working on a new strain of "super rice" that at a projected 13 tons per hectare could nearly double the yield of current varieties.

-- Wheat. This vital cereal grain bloomed from 1.2 million metric tons per hectare to 2.6 million metric tons, increasing by 116.6 percent. Now researchers are looking for genes in wild grasses that when "spliced" into wheat's genetic structure will help it defend itself against pests and tough growing conditions.

-- Corn. From 1.5 million metric tons per hectare in 1970, corn yields have risen by 80 percent to 2.7 million metric tons per hectare. And scientists at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center outside Mexico City have developed a drought-resistant variety that researchers estimate could boost yields by another 30 percent.

Not all new approaches are warmly embraced. For all of its promise, biotechnology attracts regular protests. In Europe, Greenpeace demonstrators recently protested in Belgium over imports of genetically engineered soybeans from the United States.

Still, specialists say that the research orchard is not fully harvested. "The scientific community is fairly optimistic that science will pay off and the technology will be developed" to further improve yields, says Kenneth Frey, a professor emeritus of agronomy at Iowa State University in Ames.

Yet "increased yields alone will not be enough to feed everyone 30 years from now," warns Ismail Serageldin, CGIAR's chairman and the World Bank's vice president for environmentally sustainable development. The danger, several agricultural economists say, is that in the face of cheap food, at least for the developed world, complacency may set in. Countries may continue to stick to policies that remove incentives for farmers to invest and produce.

"There's good evidence that in countries that directly or indirectly discriminate against agriculture, you won't get much of a response" to new research, the World Bank's McCalla says.

Such antifarming policies include direct taxes on agriculture or high tariffs on products farmers need. "We've seen significant reforms in Uganda," he continues, "and there's a real chance that it could take off." The country's leaders stopped taxing agricultural products, encouraged private markets, and lowered tariffs, he says.

Lester Brown, president of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, argues that social policy also comes into play. Based on his organization's forecasts of dwindling resources such as land, irrigation water, and fisheries, he sees education of women in less-developed countries and family planning as the key to reducing birthrates to enable the world to feed its people in the next 30 years.

To several economists, however, declining investment in agriculture research is particularly troubling. "Spending for agriculture research saw rapid growth in the 1960s," says Philip Pardey, a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. "In the late '70s, it began to stagnate in real terms. And the '80s and '90s have seen actual declines."

The situation is particularly acute in Africa, the continent with the greatest needs. Mr. Pardey points out that in 1961, 19 African nations surveyed spent $260 million, in 1991 dollars. That peaked in 1981 at $701 million. By 1991, spending on agricultural R&D in Africa had slipped back to $680 million, he says.

Nor did the decline reflect more efficient spending. "The 1980s was a period ... when countries cut public spending to qualify for international loans," Pardey says. "These countries made very few attempts to distinguish between what government ought to do and what it shouldn't do. They just cut across the board."

Government research money also is drying up in the developed world, including the US. In an age of national-budget angst, McCalla notes, research is a tough sell, in part because it takes so long to see a return on investment. For example, at the CGIAR meeting in Washington in late October, "we gave a prize to one of the centers for developing mildew-resistant millet," McCalla says. "That was a 21-year program. It takes 10 to 20 years for a new variety to go from research to the field."

Private research plays a role

Businesses are picking up some of the slack. "There are areas where the private sector will do the (research) work," Dr. McPherson says. "Monsanto's stock is up this year; the market is saying it's the result of the company's biotechnology work. On cash crops, you'll find companies doing a substantial amount of research work. But where there is no private capital, where farmers do not grow things to sell to anyone else, we need to focus on this."

Ironically, McPherson notes, research is being cut at a time when information technologies are making research within developing countries easier and potentially cheaper. The World Bank, the US National Science Foundation, USAID, and other agencies are spending money to bring the information superhighway to less-developed nations. Access to information, combined with biotechnology, he says, will be a powerful tool in helping scientists in these countries feed the hungry.

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