Clinton cut means that millions could starve

President Bill Clinton is about to deliver a stunning rebuff to international efforts to reduce hunger, even as the World Food Summit winds up in a barrage of rhetoric here today.

His administration will announce at another meeting here next week that it is planning to cut by two-thirds its funding to the only UN agency designed to help poor Third World farmers - and that it will give no money at all in future. The cuts will be the greatest ever imposed on a UN agency, and will devastate the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The US gave no hint at the summit of its plan to cut IFAD funding. Dan Glickman, the US Agriculture Secretary and delegation leader, said: "Ending world hunger is a goal that, if ever abandoned, takes with it our very humanity. The US will continue to answer the call of those in need. It is more prepared and dedicated than ever to feeding a hungry world." Yet IFAD's president, Fawzi Al-Sultan, told the Independent on Sunday that the US, the agency's largest contributor, had informed him it was cutting its contributions from a planned $90m (pounds 54m) over the next three years to $30m. After these three years were up, they would provide no money at all.

The decision could endanger the agency, since the US cut should be matched by every other country. But other Western nations are so convinced of IFAD's value that they are trying to find ways of keeping up their contributions. At best IFAD's budget faces a cut of 10 per cent.

Helping poor farmers is now regarded as the most effective way both to boost food production and to reduce poverty, the main cause of hunger. IFAD has helped more than 200 million people. It is one of the few international agencies to attract virtually unanimous approval from the world's governments, and even among the anti-UN Republican majority in the US Congress.

The US action will further undermine the world's halting efforts to tackle the malnutrition that blights the lives of 800 million people and stunts 230 million children. A new report by a committee of UN experts shows that it will take 200 years to eradicate malnutrition in the Indian subcontinent, while hunger is actually getting worse in Africa.