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By Silvia Aloisi and Daniel Flynn
ROME (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Monday that a climate change deal in Copenhagen next month is crucial to fighting global hunger, which Brazil's president described as "the most devastating weapon of mass destruction."
Government leaders and officials met in Rome for a three-day U.N. summit on how to help developing countries feed themselves, but anti-poverty campaigners were already writing off the event as a missed opportunity.
The sense of scepticism deepened at the weekend, when U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders supported delaying a legally binding climate pact until 2010 or even later, though European negotiators said the move did not imply weaker action.
"Hunger is the most devastating weapon of mass destruction on our planet, it doesn't kill soldiers, it kills innocent children who are not even one-year old," Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told the summit.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there could be "no food security without climate security."
"Next month in Copenhagen, we need a comprehensive agreement that will provide a firm foundation for a legally binding treaty on climate change," he said.
Africa, Asia and Latin America could see a decline of between 20 and 40 percent in potential agricultural productivity if temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius, the U.N. says.
Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to be the hardest hit from global warming as its agriculture is almost entirely rain-fed.
With the number of hungry people in the world topping 1 billion for the first time, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation called the summit in the hope leaders would commit to raising the share of official aid spent on agriculture to 17 percent of the total -- its 1980 level -- from 5 percent now.
That would amount to $44 billion a year against $7.9 billion (4.7 billion pounds) now. Farmers in rich countries receive $365 billion of support every year.
WHERE'S THE MONEY?
But the summit declaration adopted on Monday included only a general promise to pour more money into agricultural aid, with no target or timeframe for action.
A pledge to eliminate malnutrition by 2025, one of the early aims of the summit, was also missing from the statement, which merely stated that world leaders commit to eradicate hunger "at the earliest possible date."
Last year's spike in the price of food staples such as rice and wheat sparked riots in as many as 60 countries.
Rich food importers have rushed to buy foreign farmland, pushing food shortages and hunger up the political agenda -- but also raising fears of a new colonialism in poor countries.
"We should fight against this new feudalism, we should put an end to this land grab in African countries," Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi told the summit.
Food prices have fallen back since their 2008 record highs but remain high in poor countries. The FAO says sudden price rises are still very likely.
A summit of the Group of Eight leading powers in July pledged $20 billion over the next three years to boost agricultural development, in a big policy shift towards long-term strategies and away from emergency food aid.
But FAO Director General Jacques Diouf said those were "still promises that need to materialise."
Apart from Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, G8 leaders skipped the summit, which looked more like a gathering of Latin American and African heads of state.