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How to feed the hungry billion

The global food crisis has slipped from the headlines. The world can solve it. Will it?

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Before the global economic crisis, there was the global food crisis. Last year, soaring prices for basic foods sparked riots in about 30 countries. In June, the UN held a summit to tackle it. In July, the G-8 pledged to act. But in the fall, the floor fell out from the financial markets. Now, like a mountain of maize, countries' economic worries threaten to bury their concerns about rising world hunger.

Food prices have eased on global markets, but they remain high in many countries. Price volatility, the credit crunch, and shrinking coffers (both private and government) are making it harder for farmers to get loans to invest and plant.

At a follow-up conference on hunger this week, the United Nations announced that 40 million people joined the ranks of the "undernourished" in 2008, bringing the number of hungry people to nearly 1 billion – or roughly 1 in 7. Yet donor nations have delivered only a trickle of the $22 billion they pledged last year.

Meanwhile, food production must double by 2050 to head off mass hunger amid a global population surge from 6.5 billion to 9 billion, the UN said.

The world can solve this problem. In the 1960s, a technological "green revolution" in grain yields, irrigation, and fertilizers greatly increased food production, especially in Asia. Allowing communal farmers to earn and trade privately went a long way to alleviate hunger in post-Mao China. And economic growth and social programs have helped in Latin America.

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