The United Nations is having another of its conference extravaganzas in November. The World Food Summit will be convened in Rome.
Food is a subject worthy of a summit. Eight hundred million people - 15 percent of the world's population - suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition. The United States Department of Agriculture warns of a "looming mismatch between food-aid resources and needs." Agricultural production this year is down, surpluses are rapidly declining, and prices are at record-high levels.
But the countries going to the summit show few signs of taking decisive action toward solving the problem of world hunger. The US chants free-trade and free-market mantras. Yet these won't work for people with no money and nothing to trade. We doubt a poor farmer in Chad would be heartened by a stirring call for "appropriate policies ... for improved food security." The world community needs to ensure that adequate food exists and will continue to exist for those who fall out of the market system - refugees, displaced persons, and the destitute.
The experts say world food production is still adequate, although declining or barely keeping pace relative to the need. A major problem is distribution. There's too much food in the US and too little in Chad. The farmer in Chad can't raise enough food to feed a family and doesn't have any money to buy more.
The solution to world hunger in the short term seems to be better distribution through increased food assistance. Over the long term, the US's prescription of free-market and free-trade policies can begin to work. Food assistance, however, is declining - from 15 million tons of grain in 1992-93 to 8 million tons in 1994-95. The need, conversely, will increase - from 15 million tons in 1996 to a projected 27 million tons in 2005.