Only a tenth of the some 22 billion euros in assistance for food and agriculture pledged for 2008 has reached the UN food agency, its chief Jacques Diouf said Thursday.
"Despite enthusiastic speeches and financial commitments, we have received only a tiny part of what was pledged," Diouf said as he marked World Food Day at the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
His comments came as an expert warned that soaring food prices had pushed up the number of people in the world classed as hungry to 925 million, while more than 100 million had been driven into extreme poverty.
Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said in a statement in Geneva that the whole system of food production needed to be radically overhauled to ensure an equitable outcome.
"The violation on a daily basis of the right to food for hundreds of millions of people worldwide has its roots in an outdated and inadequate production system, rather than in the actual quantity of food available," he said.
In Dublin former UN secretary general Kofi Annan said aid for the world's hungry must not be hit by the global financial crisis which cannot be "an excuse for inaction" at a "critical juncture".
"We must maintain our resolve. We can end hunger and poverty. Doing so is critical to Africa and to a healthy and resilient global food system," he told a conference Thursday aimed at highlighting global hunger and advocating better ways to combat it.
To underline his point FAO figures revealed Thursday that about a million Burundian children under the age of five suffered chronic malnutrition, while in Ethiopia World Food Programme officials said that 84,000 children were suffering from malnutrition in famine-hit regions of Ethiopia.
Nearly seven billion euros (9.5 billion dollars) were pledged at an emergency summit on the world food crisis that Diouf hosted in June.
"Only 10 percent of the 22 billion euros announced (overall) was disbursed," Diouf said, adding that most arriving funds were earmarked for food aid rather than urgently needed investment in agriculture.
Diouf reiterated his fear that the global financial crisis is taking attention away from the continuing food crisis, saying the "number of malnourished, instead of diminishing, grew by 75 million in 2007."
The figure could grow further this year, he added.
"The structural solution to the problem of food security is to raise the productivity and output of the farming sector in low-income countries," he said.
Diouf lamented that aid to agriculture slumped by more than half between 1984 and 2005, from eight billion dollars to 3.4 billion dollars, while agriculture's share in development aid also fell, from 17 percent in 1980 to three percent in 2006.
Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who was honoured with the title of "patron" of FAO's activities, echoed Diouf's concern in a keynote speech, saying "falling stock markets have monopolised the world's attention, turning it away from the poorest countries."
Meanwhile Pope Benedict XVI blamed the persistence of world hunger on "the contemporary culture that favours only the race for material goods," in a message to the FAO.
"The means and resources available to the world today can buy enough food to satisfy the growing needs of all," he wrote, laying the blame on a lack of political will, "unbridled speculation" and corruption in some countries.