"We are all strongly committed to working with you to help those at risk enjoy food and nutrition security, and to build up their resilience in the face of today's grave economic, climatic and environmental threats," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Summit of the World's Regions on Food Security in Dakar, Senegal, in a message delivered by his Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition David Nabarro.
The seriousness of the UN commitment was underlined by the presence at the summit of a full array of the world body's organizations - the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and others - he said.
Mr. Ban noted the many factors creating the crisis, including the inability of farmers to produce enough food to meet demand, with volatile markets offering prices that are sometimes too low to cover their costs, seeds and fertilizers being too expensive, and trading systems often hobbling their access to markets at the right price.
Smallholder farmers are hit particularly hard, with their problems exacerbated by credit shortages, lack of access to technology and the impact of climate change. Women, who do most of the farming in the world's poorest communities, suffer their own particular ill-effects from food insecurity, being forced to make stark choices between childcare and income-earning, leaving a disproportionate numbers of women and children mal-nourished.
"We must do a better job of listening to these smallholders and women farmers, and involving them in our response," Mr. Ban said.
But he also noted some bright spots, with civil society, the private sector and governments working more concertedly at several levels. World leaders have become increasingly outspoken on the need for a sustained response to food and nutrition insecurity.
Africa's leaders have committed themselves to increasing investments in agriculture, infrastructure and food processing, especially for smallholders, and to strengthening social protection programmes, safety nets and direct assistance to the hungry, with similar twin-track initiatives emerging in Asia and Latin America.
Mr. Ban also cited the agreements reached last year by the G20 group of leading developed and developing nations and the G8 bloc of industrialized States on a comprehensive, country-led and coordinated approach to food security, and on the long-term investment to support it.
"It is at the local and regional levels that such initiatives need the greatest support," he said.