China serves as model for hunger reduction, says UN agency

May 29th, 2009 - 7:50 am ICT by IANS  

United Nations, May 29 (Xinhua) As the world continues to face high food prices, the right blend of government regulation and market forces, like the steps taken in China during the 1970s, can help reduce hunger in developing countries, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said in a report.
“There is a pragmatic quest for a middle way, where careful supervision of markets by informed governments leads to a market economy that can generate ‘pro-poor’ economic growth,” the report, “World Hunger Series - Hunger and Markets”, said. “The goal is to provide access to productive jobs and stable and affordable food prices for the poor.”

The report cites China as an example of how government action, incentives for farmers and market reforms can create a “remarkable reduction in poverty and hunger”.

Before 1978, farmers were not allowed to cultivate their land. But when the government enacted reform measures under the household responsibility system, farmers were granted access to markets where they could sell their surplus crops.

As a result, between 1978 and 1998, the number of poor citizens in rural China fell from 260 million to 42 million, the report said.

Introducing markets in “a very controlled and systematic way contributed significantly to the decline in hunger in China”, Henk-Jan Brinkman, WFP senior advisor for economic policy, said.

“It was a broad set of factors that really made China such an incredible example of reduction in poverty, reduction in hunger, and made it the economic force it is today,” he said.

The WFP report argues that the success of market forces depends on government intervention acted upon at the right time.

Improvements in infrastructure, market information systems and research and development can drastically improve the poor’s access to nutritious food.

The WFP report comes as food prices remained at near record levels. The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Cereal Price Index, for example, was at its peak last year - 322 percent higher than in 2000. As a result, 115 million more people became hungry during 2007 and 2008.

When food prices skyrocket, poorer communities are forced to buy cheaper food, which has less nutritional value. Even a few months of inadequate nutrition can have lifelong consequences, said Sheila Sisulu, deputy executive director for Hunger Solutions at WFP.

In particular, children who do not receive adequate nutrition before the age of two, face stunted growth, she added.

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