Some poor nations succeeding in fighting hunger

Government fertilizer has made the difference between hunger and plenty for Rodrick Jesitala, a farmer and father of three in southern Malawi.

Thanks to fertilizer he couldn’t afford without government help, Jesitala harvested enough corn to feed his family this year. A report released Friday praised Malawi’s program, saying governments simply making agriculture a top priority and offering financial and other incentives to small farmers have seen some poor countries quickly move from importing food to producing surpluses.

In its report, ActionAid International ranked Malawi among the top five successful developing nations, with Brazil taking the lead, for cutting child malnutrition by 73 percent in six years.

“Who’s Really Fighting Hunger” said Brazil succeeded at cutting child malnutrition by investing extensively in small-holder farmers and implementing strong social welfare policies.

In Malawi, the past two growing seasons have ended with impressive surpluses of the staple crop, corn. President Bingu wa Mutharika persisted with his program to help farmers buy fertilizer despite opposition from Western donor nations and agencies that see subsidies as contrary to free market principles.

During the 2008-09 growing season, the government spent $183 million on the farm subsidy program, which resulted in Malawi realizing a surplus of 1.3 million metric tons of maize. Under the program, a farming family gets two 50-kilogram bags of fertilizer and packets of seed.

Before he started using fertilizer, Jesitala harvested fewer than 15 bags of corn from his one-acre plot. This year, he harvested 40 bags, enough to feed his family for the year.

“We will also even sell some of the maize,” he said.

Malawi, which has had acute food shortages in the past, has been a donor in recent times, giving 500 metric tons of corn each to Swaziland and Lesotho and selling some to Zimbabwe in the 2007-08 growing season. Talks are under way to sell to Kenya and Zimbabwe this year.

The World Food Program is warning that, because of drought, Malawians in some southern regions will need food aid this year despite the national surplus. But the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security says there’s enough stock to respond to any food emergency.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said in a report released Wednesday that the world’s hungry reached 1.02 billion this year, attributing the steady rise in the number of undernourished people to governments reducing their spending on agriculture for more than a decade.

“It’s the role of the state and not the level of wealth, that determines progress on hunger,” said Anne Jellema, ActionAid’s policy director.

“Every six seconds a child dies from hunger, but this scandal could easily be ended if all governments took determined action,” said Jellema.

ActionAid’s report ranks 29 developing and 22 developed nations to compare policies, laws and actions individual governments have taken with the aim of ending global hunger.

The report grades rich nations on the measures they have taken to end hunger such as how much agriculture aid they give or what they are doing to reverse the effects of climate change.

Luxembourg tops the list of 22 rich nations, followed by Finland and Ireland.

“Who’s Really Fighting Hunger,” ranks 51 countries where either ActionAid has a presence or have reliable data that makes comparisons possible. So, for example, Zimbabwe is not included because of doubts about data generated in that country.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.