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New policies for war on world hunger.

New policies for war on world hunger

Roughly 730 million people -- or some 34 percent of the developing world (excluding China, for which data are unavailable)--lack sufficient food to lead an active working life; nearly half of them are so undernourished that the health of children is imperiled and their growth is in danger of being stunted, according to a World Bank study published March 10.

Since the 1970s, many of the efforts to stem hunger in the developing world "have emphasized food self-sufficiency -- often at any cost," says G. Edward Schuh, director of agriculture and rural development at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. But that philosophy hasn't paid off, he says: "Though India's a perfect example of a country that is now considered self-sufficient, it has hundreds of millions of malnourished people."

In fact, the report notes, "the world has ample food"; hunger persists largely because so many people lack the income to pay for food. Development would ultimately bring income, employment and therefore hunger relief -- but the time it would take to deliver significant change is too long to benefit most who are now chronically hungry, the report says. However, "at a reasonable cost, you can make a considerable dent in the food problem -- before economic development is achieved," says Schlomo Reutlinger, one of the report's authors.

For example, he says, instead of drawing on bumper-crop harvests to store grains for a bad year -- itself a costly enterprise -- it may be more cost-effective to sell the surplus and instead store the proceeds. Then, in bad years, the money can be used more effectively to feed the poor with food imports or well-targeted food subsidies.

Although these food subsidies can help reduce hunger, many programs have backfired. Schuh points to a program in Brazil, where subsidies -- sometimes costing as much as $1 billion -- went for wheat. While the program was aimed at helping the poor, officials soon found out, he says, that "the poor [there] don't consume wheat."
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Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 15, 1986
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