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November 04, 2009

Is the fight against hunger a security issue?

by Howard LaFranchi
Which is more likely to grab and hold attention: third-world hunger or global food security?

Kanayo Nwanze bets the answer is the latter. The Nigerian who recently became president of the United Nations' International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) says globalization has made the hunger and rural poverty that always pulled on the heartstrings an international security issue.

"People now have a clear sense of the linkages between food security and national security," says Dr. Nwanze. That understanding is helping bring questions of hunger and rural development to a broader audience, he says, "as well as to some very high places."

Hunger now can mean increased cross-border and international migration. And the riots that accompanied recent food shortages and price hikes in several parts of the world show how hunger can destabilize governments in regions of critical importance to the international battle against extremism.

That's why issues of rural hunger and food security are increasingly cropping up in venues ranging from the US Congress to the G-8 group of industrialized countries, Nwanze says. It is the emergence of food as an international security issue, Nwanze adds, that raises the odds that the international community will help developing countries come up with sustainable answers to food production challenges.

"Sustainability is determined inside a country, the answers to food production and development have to come from within," says the agronomist who studied in Kansas State University and who is recognized for developing a high-yield, drought-resistant rice for Africa. "But we also need the participation of the broader international community to answer these challenges that today have an impact on everyone."

In Washington recently in advance of this month's World Summit on Food Security in Rome, Nwanze noted that the security dimension of hunger and food production is translating into greater interest in places like the US capital. IFAD, which Nwanze describes as a cooperative among 160 countries that provides grants for rural development projects, benefited from a US-led initiative this year to increase the organization's funding by two-thirds to about $100 million.

At the same time, the US Congress is considering the Global Food Security Act, a five-year authorization that seeks to improve US response to food crises, provide new funding for university research in agriculture and for rural development projects.

In introducing the legislation earlier this year, Sen. Bob Casey (D) of Pennsylvania pointed to Pakistan, where he said nearly half the population is considered "food insecure" and likely to become more so as the military pursues offensives against the Taliban.

"Hunger and competition for food can lead to further instability and potentially undermine government leadership at a very critical time," he said.

Short-term food shortages must be addressed, IFAD's Nwanze says, but his focus appears to be on longer-term finding production and development solutions.

"We need to think beyond production to the means of getting what is produced to the market, and to creating livelihoods," Nwanze says. Thirty years ago, Angola was touted as a food production miracle, only to plunge back to Earth when the increased production failed to spark rural development and farm-to-market infrastructure. The same thing could happen to today's bright spots, he says.

"Today we speak of Malawi and Ghana [other African stand-outs] but where will these same countries be 30 years from now?" Nwanze asks.

Christian Science Monitor

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