World attention has been focused recently on the desperate need of Ethiopia's starving millions. But in the long term, the solution to the problem of world hunger is not simply the production of more food.
That is the conclusion of the World Food Assembly, a conference of nongovernmental agencies that drew some 150 representatives from 40 countries to a four-day meeting in Rome last week.
''We can't claim to have reached a concrete solution to world hunger - what we have heard about are several small, partial solutions,'' said a participant as the meeting concluded.
In a final press conference, some of the participants had strong criticism for the activities of government-sponsored organizations since the United Nations' World Food Conference of 1974. Delegates pointed out that starvation has increased rather than decreased since that conference, in which governments pledged to eliminate hunger.
''Then the general conclusion was that all you needed to do was increase food production,'' says Jacques Chonchol, who was Chile's agriculture minister in the Socialist government of Salvador Allende.
''Statistics now show that, but for Africa, food production has increased more than the world population, yet the number of those suffering malnutrition - now estimated at 800 million - has doubled.''
Food aid per se outside of an emergency situation like the present one in Ethiopia and the Sahel is also a gross error, in the WFA view.
''Most food shipments come just when local harvests are due and end up undercutting the prices of local farmers' crops,'' explains Susan George of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. ''And in cases like Bangladesh it contributes to the upkeep of a government and military bureaucracy while those who actually need it get just 10 percent of what is sent.''