U.N. head talks in Missouri of feeding the world's needy

Saturday, June 13, 2009

ST. LOUIS -- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that the international community must work together to help the "bottom billion" people in the world who live on less than $1 a day.

Speaking at St. Louis University as part of his United States outreach program, Ban said the world's food crisis has receded from headlines, but more needs to be done to fight famine and abject poverty.

Improved infrastructure, greater productivity and the elimination of unfair trade practices will help feed the hungry, he said. Ban also called for a "green revolution" in Africa, a reference to ongoing work to produce food surpluses of staple African food crops.

The secretary-general said the price of staple foods nearly doubled last year in many nations, reducing some families to eating one meal per day instead of two. He said families that spend more money on food have less to spend on other things, like education.

"No one should face such choices," he said.

Ban said Americans can play a big role in the success of U.N. programs, and he asked the audience to help as the world works on issues like economic problems, climate change, energy issues and disease.

"Much of what the United Nations does can seem remote to most of you -- when living in the Heartland like this," he said.

Ban said food producers need easier access to credit, seed, fertilizers, pesticides and technologies.

The U.N. head's speech was well-received by many of the roughly 600 people in attendance. He weighed in on topics of local interest, including the long-standing state debate about how Missouri ought to be pronounced -- "Missour-uh," Ban said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

St. Louis University student Mark Zinn, 20, said the secretary-general's talk of helping the poor and those in need "was really in tune with the university's Jesuit mission."

Earlier in the day, Ban met with a handful of the region's biotechnology leaders, botany experts and farmers.

Among those who attended was Roger Beachy, president of the St. Louis-based Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, known internationally for its work to increase agricultural production and enhance plants' nutritional content.

"I think the heart of the man, the heart of the institution, is right," Beachy said after the gathering.

Beachy pointed to the United Nations' work to distribute food and bring together experts to work on solutions to problems like food supply, climate change and energy. But he said he thinks U.N. member states can do more to fund research and provide resources for growing more nutritious, productive and disease-resistant crops.

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