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To conquer hunger by the year 2000

How can we conquer world hunger by the year 2000? One obvious answer is to accelerate food production in the regions most in need. But to achieve this demands strong, committed political leadership in the world's developing countries.

The reason: The steps that must be taken to spur agricultural production will cause major disruptions to the political, social, and economic establishments in the countries which launch such a drive. Unfortunately, the lead time to accomplish results by way of increased production is longer than the political leadership span of chiefs of state in most countries.

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The world is witnessing a marathon race between food and population. A billion people suffer poverty and malnutrition, resulting in millions of deaths each year. Extrapolating production and consumption trends globally, there will be a severe shortfall in food production in the year 2000 -- a shortfall which will substantially exceed the US's capacity to feed the world. In short, outside of the ever-present danger of a nuclear outbreak, the most serious threat to stability and progress on earth today is the shortage of food reserves , particularly cereal grains.

Making the necessary institutional changes to increase agricultural production is a complicated process. To illustrate, let's compare industry with agriculture. To erect a major manufacturing plant, say one employing 10,000 people, is hard. Yet it is simple compared to the complexity of modernizing the agricultural system of a region encompassing 10,000 people, which calls for producer incentives and input such as seed, fertilizer, insecticides, credit, and storage facilities. The chain is long in which basic infrastructure (communication and transportation), proper land treatment (including water, drainage and irrigation), and incentives are only the beginning links.

Clearly, to set an atmosphere conducive to institutional change takes political courage, and the fact is that the major agricultural success stories in the developing world are found in those countries where the political leadership has been strong enough to impose a complete revolution on the country's economy so that increased agricultural productivity could be achieved.

Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea are examples of what can be accomplished within a short time frame, not only to boost the agricultural fortunes of a country but to build a booming national economy with agriculture as the foundation.

In particular, South Korea and Taiwan are examples of what only a few years ago were underdeveloped, poverty- stricken countries, but where today per capita income has reached $1,000 annually (compared to $250 in poorer countries) and where income in the countryside in the agricultural sectors matches that of skilled workers in the cities.

Further, there is little poverty today in South Korea, Taiwan, or Japan. One reason is that there has been a significant sharing of income with the people on the land, who are no longer on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Income is shared more equitably in Taiwan and South Korea than in other developing countries around the world, including Brazil and Mexico where economic growth has been exceptionally high since 1960.

Despite world hunger pessimism, the planet Earth has the potential to feed not only six billion people but perhaps as many as 48 billion -- or eight times the number of people projected for the year 2000. Why? Because only one half of the world's productive, arable land is currently under the plow and probably only one third of modern agricultural technology is being widely applied.

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If the world is ready for a solid commitment to lick rural poverty and hunger , I believe the tools to do the job are available. So that the availability of those "tools" may be known, I have recommended to President Carter's Commission on World Hunger that a "precedent center" be established, possibly by the US government, World Bank, or Food and Agriculture Organization.

Such a center would gather and index systematically the history of what has taken place in small rural communities in developing countries around the world. It would catalog both successes and failures. If this were done, rural development specialists could go to one central place and, out of the experience of others, build for themselves a "model" which they could adapt to the needs of the village where they work by factoring into it the history, culture, and desires of the community they seek to help.

To sum up, if the hour of deliverance is to arrive for the world's hungry people, these ingredients must be incorporated into poor countries' rural-development mix:

* Land reform, including supporting services to incentivize producers.

* Sensible pricing policies if small producers are to be expected to risk their family's future by embracing new technology.

* Holistic, broadly based community involvement.

* Irrigation to maximize the results from modern farm technology.

* An effective population control program.

* Organizing women in village communities.

* And, basic to everything, political leadership with courage, commitment, and follow-through.