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A group of leading experts recognised for their outstanding contributions to alleviating world hunger have issued a joint statement complaining about cuts in funding for public agricultural research programmes. They also express their dismay that the number of undernourished people in developing countries (excluding China) has actually increased during the last decade.

In a statement released to coincide with a meeting that starts in Rome today to discuss progress since the World Food Summit of 1996, the fifteen World Food Prize laureates say that the international community must address a number of interlinked goals — including sustainable food production and distribution, poverty, and population stabilisation. Without this, they say, the pledge to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015 made six years ago will not be achieved.

They add that there is a danger of “critically needed” research capabilities being eroded due to inadequate funding, an apparent reference to recent reductions in support for the global network of research institutes run by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

And in a bid to strike a chord with a new awareness of the underlying causes of global instability, the laureates stress the links between a lack of food and conflict. “The world as a whole cannot enjoy durable peace, social stability and economic prosperity while hundreds of millions of people suffer from abject poverty and hunger,” they warn.

In his opening address to delegates at the World Food Summit: Five Years Later, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said, "We must improve agricultural productivity and standards of living in the countryside by helping small subsistence farmers and rural communities increase their incomes and improve the quantity and quality of locally available food. For that, we must give them greater access to land, credit and relevant technology and knowledge that would help them grow more resistant crops, as well as ensuring plant and animal safety.

"But success will also depend on developments beyond the farm gate, such as improvements in rural health care services and education and in rural infrastructure, which includes roads, supply of irrigation water and food safety management."

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Link to World Food Prize laureates' statement

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