All eyes on agriculture, FAO-EU

All eyes
on agriculture

FAO and EU
: unlocking rural potential

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Rome, 2007

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With global challenges – climate change, rising food prices, epidemics – putting food security at risk, there is a renewed awareness of the crucial role agriculture plays in tackling hunger and malnutrition. It makes sense. Agriculture, fisheries and forestry are still the main sources of income in the rural areas where most of the world’s 854 million hungry people live. The European Union is one of FAO’s most steadfast and generous partners in promoting sustainable rural development to improve the lives of the poor.

VIRUS FIGHTERS give exhausted region a new life. For a long time, African farmers were not especially alarmed when the leaves of their cassava plants occasionally became patchy and failed to grow as big as usual. In 1989, an aggressive strain of the disease unleashed an epidemic that decimated harvests throughout the African Great Lakes region. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria, developed a series of diseasefree cassava seedlings, which were distributed to a wide array of organizations involved in combatting the disease. FAO developed a regional campaign to boost the Virus fighters; the initiative was launched in 2006, with the financial support of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid department.

HEART OF AFGHAN AGRICULTURE starts pumping again. In 2003, the European Union “adopted” the Afghan seed sector. In total, EU taxpayers have invested €16 million in an FAO-implemented programme, which runs until 2011 and pays for genetic material, staff, training, refurbishment of looted seed testing facilities, equipment and building materials. “New crop varieties are going to lead to a massive jump in food production,” predicts Matin Behzad, an adviser at the Delegation of the European Commission to Afghanistan. “We wanted to work with FAO on this project because of its long association with the Afghan seed sector [since 1978]. As a humanitarian concern, rural development is one of our focal areas.”

FOOD INSECURITY and violence against women. Although war is over in Democratic Republic of Congo, insecurity still prevails, particularly in the east. With uncontrolled armed groups swarming the region, women have suffered the most. Many fall victim to sexual violence. The EU is FAO ’s main donor in Democratic Republic of Congo, allowing the Organization to launch a €2.5 million, threeyear project to assist 95 000 of the most vulnerable rural families in North and South Kivu. FAO helps war-affected families rebuild agriculture and fisheries, focusing its assistance on women.

HISTORIC AGRICULTURAL CENSUS reveals Niger's hidden wealth. Released in November 2007, the country’s first tally of both agricultural and livestock resources revealed that agricultural assets have been substantially underestimated. For example, Niger has over 30 million head of livestock, 30 percent more than previously assumed. Jointly financed by the government and the European Union, for €2.3 million and €6.5 million respectively, the census was executed by the government and FAO using a sophisticated agricultural census programme developed by the Organization.

ENSURING every voice is heard. “In a world that is more and more open, there are increasing restrictions on trade,” notes Charles Zarzour, of the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture. FAO tries to mitigate the impact of such restrictions through the setting of science-based agricultural and food standards. For example, Lebanon, an exporter of vegetables and fruits, depends on such international rules to be able to access markets such as Europe. One set of rules is contained in the International Plant Protection Convention. The European Union helps developing countries participate in the standard-setting process of the convention, governed by the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures.

© FAO & EU 2008