If business proceeds as usual, just as many people will be hungry in the world -- 800 million -- in 2015 as there were 16 years ago, said Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Cornell's Babcock Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy and the 2001 Food Prize laureate. He will speak (Feb. 17) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is participating in a symposium, "Mobilizing Science to End Poverty in the Developing World."
"Even though 186 countries agreed with the Millennium Development Goals to reduce the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day by half, no one's doing anything about it," Pinstrup-Andersen says. "It's disgraceful -- it's immoral and appalling. We could achieve the goals, but won't."
About 1.2 billion people -- almost four times the U.S. population -- in developing countries live on $1 a day or less, he says. Although China has reduced its poverty levels, hunger worldwide has grown in more than half of the developing countries since 1990. In fact, the number of hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa has jumped 20 percent since then, says Pinstrup-Andersen, who also chairs the Science Council of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (see companion story) and is a former director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute.
With 10 million children dying every year from disease and hunger, the world is increasingly unstable. "It's very sad and makes the world much more dangerous, because more people will be motivated to commit acts of terror to express their rage at the growing disparity and unfairness between the rich and poor," he says.
Pinstrup-Andersen recently examined the programs and outcomes of 25 international conferences addressing world poverty to assess progress toward the Millennium goals. "They all discussed the goals and targets, but very little progress has been made," he says. "The governments of developed nations just don't care; they have the resources but not the political will. And the governments of developing nations don't invest in alleviating hunger and poverty because they're only interested in short-term results for their own political careers."
He notes that alleviating hunger and poverty is not only a humanitarian imperative but also it is in the self-interest of the United States and other developed countries because doing so would not only reduce terrorism but also improve trade and relieve immigration pressures.
Pinstrup-Andersen points out that developing nations spend, on average, 0.5 percent of the value of their agricultural output on research when they should be spending 2 percent. By comparison, the United States spends 5 percent.
Since 70 to 75 percent of the world's poor and hungry live in rural areas in developing countries, Pinstrup-Andersen urges the adoption of policies that promote economic growth and poverty alleviation in these areas. "They will be the most important approach for a long time to come and need to include investments in rural roads, markets, agricultural research and technology, primary education and health care," he says.
Policies should also focus on increasing farm incomes in rural areas in low-income countries, as well as on generating non-agricultural employment, particularly in urban areas, to absorb rural migration.