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UN warns of food crisis on World Food Day
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The UN food agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), warned of looming food shortages in Africa as Kenya marked the World Food Day in Nairobi on Thursday.

FAO's Country Representative Castro Camarada said sub-Saharan Africa will be hardest hit by the food crisis since it is where most vulnerable groups are found.

The warning came against a backdrop of the global increase in food and fuel prices and a financial crisis that is likely to shift attention from the food crisis to economic stability.

Camarada said there is need to address the growing food demand and competition in prices as a result of climate change.

Speaking in Nairobi to mark the World Food Day, Camarada called for the promotion of the Rome declaration on improving global food security so as to help alleviate the situation.

"We need to create food-enabling frameworks for substantial increase of direct food foreign investments for agriculture in low income food deficit countries," he said.

He urged developed countries to consider partnering with the third world nations. "Equitable partnerships between nations that have land, water, labour and supply and those that have financial resources, management facilities and markets would constitute a solid base for sustainable agriculture."

Kenyan agriculture assistant minister Kareke Mbiuki said there is an urgent need to curb malnutrition and persistent food shortages to prevent hunger in the country.

He said that in as much as bio-fuel continues to draw attention due to the increasing prices of fossil fuels, there is need to focus on providing access to sustainable sources of energy.

"This continued depletion of the forest cover will in the near future convert this country into a desert," he said. Mbiuki said the kenyan government will formulate policies to help cushion small scale traders against the effects of climate change.

"The challenge is for them to put up the necessary infrastructure to distribute the food," he said. "I believe we have the capacity and we also have development partners who are ready to chip in."

The assistant minister said thousands of bags of food are lying at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) stores and blamed the ministry of special programs for delaying its distribution to the hungry.

Hundreds of thousands of people are reported to be starving in a number of districts especially those in arid and semi arid regions.

Previously, FAO has asked governments in sub-Sahara Africa to focus on adapting agricultural practices that will ensure food security. It said the inadequate budgetary allocations to crucial ministries that deal with food production has led to the dire situation.

A 2005 Taskforce on Hunger established that half of the world's hungry are smallholders and are largely affected by slight changes in climate.

As the leaders have urged development partners to increase funding, the European Commission announced a 1.5 billion shilling (about 19.8 U.S. dollars) emergency food aid.

The amount is aimed at reducing the impact caused by the rising food and fuel prices in five Eastern Africa countries.

An estimated 10 million people are set to benefit from the hunger funds. The lion's share will go to Ethiopia, a country that is often on the world map due to the severe famine it experiences.

Somalia will also receive a substantial amount to help reduce hunger in the war-ravaged nation in the horn of Africa. Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti will also benefit from the funds.

In addition, the money will help provide food aid, including supplies for malnourished children, along with short-term support for farmers, such as in the distribution of seeds and tools.

The World Food Day is observed annually on Oct. 16, the day on which the FAO was founded in 1945.

A speech from FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf called for a political and financial push to boost sustainable agriculture in the world's poor countries, double global food production and free the world of hunger and malnutrition.

"I wish to reaffirm that we know what needs to be done to eradicate the hunger of 923 million people in the world. We also know what needs to be done to double world food production and to feed a population that is expected to rise to 9 billion people by 2050."

He noted that 22 billion U.S. dollars was pledged to promote global food security earlier this year, but only 10 percent of this has so far materialized -- mainly for emergency food aid.

"What we need ... is political will and delivery on financial commitments, if we are to be able to make the essential investments that are needed to promote sustainable agricultural development and food security in the poorest countries of the world," he stated.

(Xinhua News Agency October 17, 2008)

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