MADRID - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called Monday for a new focus on food security as an international meeting was set to open here.
"What seems to have been often forgotten, in recent decades, is that there is only a thin line between plentiful food at low prices and crippling shortages, even famine," they said in a commentary published in The International Herald Tribune.
Representatives from 95 countries were set to begin Monday a two-day follow-up meeting to the UN-sponsored summit held last year in Rome to tackle the food crisis, which has stoked social unrest and threatens to push millions more people into hunger.
They said they hoped that despite the global economic crisis that the "Food Security for All" meeting, to be attended by more than 40 government ministers and heads of international organisations, will futher plans to reduce hunger and improve food security.
"A time of economic hardship is a time to get back to basics. And no human need or economic fulcrum is as basic as the right to eat," the two leaders said.
They noted food prices remain high in many poor countries, and that developmental agricultural aid -- key to combating rural poverty as well as boosting food production -- has been declining for years.
"We hope that this working meeting will lead to commitments that will give a boost to a new agenda in terms of food security," Spain's secretary of state for international co-operation, Soraya Rodriguez, said ahead of the opening of the meeting.
Member states of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization agreed at the summit in Rome to reduce the number of people who live in hunger by 2015, but so far there have been limited financial donations.
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FAO Director General Jacques Diouf has warned that at the current pace of donations from the international community, the goal set in Rome will only be met in 2150 while nearly one billion people suffered hunger in 2008.
World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also called upon the international community to increase efforts to help the poor.
"Food prices are now volatile and that factor, combined with the impact of the financial crisis, only serves to heighten the challenges confronting the developing world," Okonjo-Iweala said in a statement.
Ahead of the meeting, two humanitarian agencies, Action Against Hunger and Doctors Without Borders, urged participants at the gathering to take concrete steps to tackle the food crisis.
"Without concrete proposals to take action and fund the fight against malnutrition, 55 million children under the age of five will continue to be at risk of death," they said in a statement.
While the Rome meeting was attended by heads of state and government, nations will be represented at the gathering in Madrid at the ministerial level.
Ban and Zapatero will preside over the closure of the Madrid conference, which is expected to end with a statement outlining specific measures to be adopted to fight hunger around the world.