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Amid passion to save money market, don't forget about food
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The whole world is busy saving Wall Street and unraveling the mysteries of the financial crisis that is overshadowing the ongoing FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) Conference in Rome.

However, for most people, especially those living in poverty, hunger is still the main concern.

According to the latest FAO Food Outlook, the sharp rise in food prices in 2007 has increased the number of undernourished by 75 million, bringing the world total to 923 million.

This year's financial crisis, which has attracted most of the world's concern, can give people a false impression that the food crisis is over. Just the opposite is true, however, according to Abdolreza Abbassian, secretary of FAO's Intergovernmental Group for Grains. Abbassian says the ongoing financial crisis will negatively influence world food supplies in both production and consumption.

The world's major food producers, such as the U.S. and Europe, are now facing a financial crisis that makes it difficult for their farmers to gain access to credit. That, in turn, may force the farmers to cut their plantings. As the food output in 2009-2010 might shrink, then, prices could again surge, stimulating a new round of the food crisis.

The financial crisis also means less money for consumers, forcing them to cut consumption of more expensive meats and instead turn to cheaper crops, adding pressure to the world's crop production. For the poor population, having even less money means a reduction in food intake, increasing the number of undernourished in the world. That in turn would offset part or all of the positive impacts of falling prices.

The core task of the world's farmers is to increase production to feed an ever-growing world population. According to FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, the world needs to double production by 2050 to feed a population of nine billion.

However, besides a series of uncertainties, other long-term challenges haunt the sector, including insufficient investment, the current unreasonable trading system in food products and the negative impact of climate change and bio-fuels.

To ease global hunger problems, a FAO Rome Food Summit in June set out specific guidelines, including a 20-billion-U.S. dollar donation promised by wealthy nations to help the poor ones. However, the FAO has collected less than 200 million dollars so far, far less than the pledged sum. If this situation continues, Abbassian said, the world might develop an even more serious food crisis than in 2007, with poor nations having no money to spend and no food to feed their citizens.

For the longer term, reform within the FAO will also help improve the world food supply situation. Only a reformed and highly efficient FAO can better cope with the increasingly grave challenges ahead. That's why the main theme of the FAO meeting is to adopt a three-year plan of action for a wide-ranging reform of the organization.

To meet the fundamental need of food for mankind, the entire world needs to put as much energy and resources into protecting food as it does in protecting money because it's a matter of survival.

As the Food Outlook puts it:" Overcoming the financial crisis is critical, but continuing the fight against hunger by realizing those pledged billions is no less important."

(Xinhua News Agency November 21, 2008)

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