With world food production dropping, US delays payment to agricultural fund

Nine years after a world food conference here resolved to eradicate hunger within a decade, hunger and malnutrition afflict some 1.5 billion people. And over the past 15 years, world food production has been dropping by about 1 percent per year.

These are just some of the drastic figures mentioned in the seventh annual conference of the governing council of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome last week. More bad news was the below-par state of the funds of this seven-year-old, United Nations-backed organization whose prime aim is to assist farmers with small landholdings and landless workers of underdeveloped countries.

In the six years since the IFAD was established, its 138 member-states have pledged to contribute $1.05 billion, but the amounts received total only $812 million.

Chief among the late payers is the United States, which has delivered only half of a promised $180 million. Iran still owes all the $19 million it pledged.

''Our project program for 1984 can be no larger than it was in 1983,'' says Donald Brown, an American who is vice-president of IFAD, ''and its survival depends on receiving the late payers' contributions.'' Already the 1983 program has been cut back to $310 million worth of funds instead of an original target of $435 million.

Some 138 projects financed or co-financed by IFAD have been approved. These projects, spread through 77 countries, could suffer setbacks or come to a halt if promised aid does not come in time.

But not all the news was bad. Libya promised to deliver its payment soon, and both Saudi Arabian and Nigerian payments are to be completed before 1985.

Under obvious pressure from member-nations, the US representative at the meeting, Richard T. McCormack, assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, said the US decision to pay the rest of its contribution was ''under intense review in Washington.''

Abdelmuhsin al-Sudeary, IFAD president, said: ''The continued scarcity of resources for investment in agriculture and food production, combined with current limitation on their export capacities, is likely to worsen the nutritional situation in developing countries. . . . It appears unquestionable that IFAD's effort to promote food production in developing member countries must be carried out vigorously and without any interruption.''

While IFAD-supported projects go ahead, the fund has to keep a check on its commitments, at least until the middle of 1984. The long-term effects of a funding shortage could be drastic for some programs now under way:

One example is a government-financed bank whose small loans help set up poor villagers as weavers, farmers, traders, or transporters. With a loan repayment record of 90 percent, the project will not continue if IFAD money ''fails to come through,'' a project consultant says. Obviously more dire effects will be felt in sub-Saharan Africa, where droughts occur so often that food imports have had to be substantially increased over the last 15 years as food production decreased steadily.

The conference ended on a note of hope that all promised payments would be received by the end of 1984. The council has agreed to negotiate for the second replenishment of funds on Feb. 29 and March 1.

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