This year’s World Food Day marks the 61st anniversary of the founding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization on October 16, 1945. The FAO is celebrating the occasion by emphasizing the role of both public and private investment in agriculture. Since the past 20 years have witnessed a decline in such investment – from $9 billion to $5 billion USD – the FAO’s aim is to reverse this trend and reach the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015.
Meanwhile, more than 850 million of the world’s people remain undernourished, and a large majority of them live in rural areas. Strengthening the world agricultural system will help feed them, and since most of the world’s farmers are small-scale, it is they in the aggregate who currently invest the most in agriculture. The FAO’s hope is that providing aid to them will allow these pillars of the world food system to feed themselves and their families and invest even more in seeds and fertilizer.
These issues are particularly acute in Africa, where state leaders have committed, through the 2003 Maputo Declaration, to allocating 10 per cent of their national budgets to agriculture and rural development within five years.
The FAO has laid out four aims in its pursuit of a better-nourished world: “(1) bring together producers and agribusiness, (2) establish and enforce grades and standards, (3) improve the investment climate for agriculture, and (4) provide essential public goods such as rural infrastructure.” To these ends, the FAO works with financing agencies to finance projects in its 165 member countries, of which there are almost 1,600 so far.