, ROME, Oct 15- The UN\’s food agency called on Friday for urgent collective action to eradicate world hunger, as Pope Benedict XVI said it was "one of the most urgent goals for the human family."
"Everyone… needs to give priority to one of the most urgent goals for the human family: freedom from hunger," the pope said in a statement, as government officials and experts met in Rome to discuss tackling hunger.
The talks came ahead of the 30th World Food Day on Saturday, which this year has the slogan: "United against hunger."
The pontiff spoke of the importance of "solidarity" and said developed countries had to be aware they "cannot simply remain closed towards others."
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that hunger has receded slightly but still afflicts nearly a billion people globally.
FAO talks this week have focussed on food security, price shocks and the large-scale purchases of farm land in developing countries by richer nations.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame told international delegates at the conference that governments needed to unite their political will and determination and collectively deliver on their commitments.
"With prosperity all around us and significant advances in technology and modern science, we cannot accept the numbers dying in the world for hunger," he said.
"We know hunger kills and deprives people of their dignity, so why are we not doing more to combat it?"
Kagame called on nations to focus on "food security measures" but warned that small farmers must be involved in the search for solutions.
Small farmers and their families represent some 2.5 billion people, more than a third of the global population, the FAO said.
Jacques Diouf, the FAO\’s director general, said that world hunger "threatens global security," and called for greater coherence and co-ordination among government efforts.
Diouf said urgent collective action was necessary for any chance of achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of hungry in the world by 2015.
"World food production will need to increase by 70 percent to feed a population of over nine billion people in 2050," he said.
Kanayo Nwanze, head of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said small farmers had the potential to feed themselves and the world, but foreign investors were needed to create the necessary opportunities.
"I have seen it with my own eyes, the lives of entire communities have been turned around with just a little help," he said.
Officials were quick to underline the importance of governments working together with the small-holder farmers whose labour produces the food.
"Private sector investment must be made in consideration of the rights of indigenous populations," said US Ambassador to the FAO Ertharin Cousin.
"We\’re beginning to make the kind of process that makes achievement possible," she said.
Josette Sheeran of the World Food Programme said the time had also come for women, who produce the bulk of food in developing countries but have limited access to production, to become a force against global hunger.
"Women can be our secret weapon in the race to beat hunger," she said.
Italian actor Raoul Bova, Canadian singer Céline Dion, Filipino singer Lea Salonga and Oscar-winning American actress Susan Sarandon were appointed as new Goodwill Ambassadors to help in the global fight against hunger.