"Sustainable Rural Development and World Food
Statement of the Director-General to the
International Conference "Rural 21"
Potsdam, Germany, 5 June 2000
Your Excellency, President Rau of the Federal Republic
Your Excellency, Prime Minister Stolpe of
Your Excellency, Minister Funke, Federal Minister for
Food, Agriculture and Forestry of the Federal Republic of
Your Excellency, Mr. Platzech, Lord Mayor of Potsdam,
Ladies and gentlemen
It is a great honour for me to be invited to address
such a distinguished audience. For this, I would like to
thank the highest authorities in the Government of the
Federal Republic of Germany and the Government of
Brandenburg for affording me such an occasion.
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies
Over the past decade, world food supplies have
increased faster than overall population growth.
Nonetheless, the extent of food insecurity in the world
remains severe. FAO estimates that, in the mid-1990s, 824
million people, 96% of whom live in developing countries,
did not have sufficient food to meet their basic
nutritional needs. The problem is not one of aggregate
supply but of geographical distribution and lack of
access. These people have either limited access to
productive resources or lack the income to produce or
purchase the food they need. In addition to the
chronically undernourished, millions more suffer from
temporary food emergencies as a consequence of natural
and man-made disasters, including a rising number of
Rural development is all the more essential because
the vast majority of the people who suffer from chronic
or temporary hunger live in rural areas. Although the
proportion of the world's population living in rural
areas has been declining, the absolute number has
surpassed 3 billion people and is expected to stay at
that level at least for the next 30 years.
Food security in the world
Food security exists when all people, at all times,
have access to sufficient food, both in terms of quantity
and quality, necessary for a healthy and active life.
A large majority of the undernourished live in Asia
which still accounts for two-thirds of the total number
of undernourished, although spectacular progress has been
registered in East Asia and some other Asian countries.
Africa, south of the Sahara, is still home to 23 percent
of the world's hungry. In this region, which is plagued
by the highest proportion of the undernourished in the
population, there has been no progress in terms of the
total numbers. However, it is worth noting also that, in
the period from 1980 to 1996, among the 13 countries in
the world that have managed to reduce most substantially
the proportion of food insecure in their population, five
of them were in Africa. Thus, there are signs of
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies
To us in FAO, sustainability of rural areas has a
fundamental meaning. It describes the conditions whereby,
over time and in the course of a society's social and
economic development, the rural space maintains its
attractiveness for people to live and to earn a living.
For rural development to be sustainable in this sense, it
is necessary that policies and institutions provide for
an equitable balance of services between rural and urban
areas as well as equitable access to resources. It must
also ensure empowerment for participation in the
political processes and provide job opportunities to
choose from under changing market conditions. The
alternative to such a strategy would be a continuation of
excessive rural-urban migration.
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies
In developing countries with large rural populations,
agriculture is the engine-of-growth not only in the rural
areas but also for the rest of the economy. In some of
the poorest countries, it generates as much as 30-50
percent of gross domestic output, employs 70-80 percent
of the national labour force, and contributes 40-70
percent of the export earnings.
A particular challenge for the rural areas is that the
sources of agricultural growth have to undergo a
fundamental change. The past pattern of expanding land is
already reaching its limits. About 80 percent of
agricultural production growth will now have to come from
sustainable intensification. Mechanisms for practical
adoption by farmers of existing technologies, followed by
substantial agricultural research, will be needed to make
this shift economically attractive and environmentally
friendly. The tools needed to achieve sustainable
intensification will change.
FAO is responding to these needs for technological
change in agriculture in a number of ways. On this
occasion, let me refer to only one initiative: the
Special Programme for Food Security, which aims to
achieve food security at the national and household
levels in low-income food-deficit countries. The focus of
the Special Programme, currently operational in 60
developing countries, is on securing production in the
face of climatic vagaries, increasing the competitiveness
of agriculture, improving farmers' incomes, creating
rural employment, and enhancing social equity and gender
sensitivity, while conserving natural resources.
South-South cooperation is a key feature of this
programme, while bilateral and multilateral donors are
multiplying the catalytic financial and human resources
that FAO is devoting to this programme.
The degradation of agricultural land and declining
soil fertility continues to be a threat, especially in
developing countries. The problem is most severe in
sub-Saharan Africa. In South Asia, land degradation costs
about US$10 billion a year in foregone production. If
investment is not made in land rehabilitation and
conservation today, the cost of doing so tomorrow will be
much greater. Another serious environmental concern for
the future is the diminishing availability of per caput
usable fresh water. As much of the increase in
agricultural production must come from irrigated land,
water and food security are closely linked.
The diversity of our genetic resources is also under
threat. The international community must still give
greater attention to biodiversity, including its vital
role as a source of genetic selection in agriculture.
FAO will continue to provide a forum for countries to
negotiate appropriate agreements with this objective in
Growth of agricultural production creates multiplier
effects in the non-agricultural economy. Increasing
quantities of farm output will be processed and
distributed, inputs will be supplied, equipment repaired,
credit financed and a wide range of services delivered to
primary producers. Furthermore, growth in agricultural
incomes generates demand for goods and services from
rural as well as urban suppliers and from imports.
Generally, growth of agriculture and non-agriculture in
the rural economy can be mutually supportive and lead to
a virtuous spiral of employment and income growth.
Many developing countries have already made efforts to
reduce the bias against agriculture and rural areas in
their national development policies. This leads to
incentives for increased investment in agriculture in
these countries. On the other hand, many countries are
being advised to reduce or adjust their traditional
support to agriculture, to make the sector compatible
with the WTO agreements. This latter process should be a
progressive one in line with the transition and
compensatory measures provided in these WTO agreements.
It should also take into consideration the fact that OECD
countries are making substantial transfers to their own
agriculture sector (US$360 billion in 1999).
The World Food Summit Plan of Action itself stressed
the importance of the role of rural institutions in
ensuring food security, combating poverty and promoting
the development of human and natural resources.
Governments undertook commitments to include in their
policies, in collaboration with all civil society actors,
the promotion of political, economic and administrative
decentralization. I am therefore confident that
governments will continue to strengthen rural people's
organizations to promote dialogue with their governments
and other partners.
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies
Success in achieving strengthened sustainable
agriculture and rural development on a global scale will
largely depend on resource flows and financing mechanisms
in the rural sector. In this context, it is particularly
worrisome that agricultural investment remains low in
comparison to the needs of sustainable agricultural
development. I therefore appeal to donors to stop the
decline in official development assistance benefiting
rural areas, especially those of the least developed
countries, for which the prospects of sufficient private
long-term funding are remote.
The second contribution is the need to ensure that the
reform process under the auspices of the WTO is conducive
to sustainable rural development and food security for
As a new round of multi-lateral negotiations on
agricultural trade is getting under way, we note that
high levels of support and protection in some
higher-income countries continue to exist. Many
developing countries have, on their part, already
undertaken reforms that have not only contributed to
reducing distortions in world markets, but have also
reduced past disincentives against their own agriculture.
Clearly their efforts will not be effective unless they
are supported by corresponding reductions of distortions
in higher-income countries.
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and
As we move into this new century, many countries have
sufficient knowledge and experience in making rural
development conducive to food security. Success will come
from efforts at the national as well as international
levels. As globalization continues apace, we must improve
our rules-based systems of international exchange amongst
countries, keeping in view the wellbeing of rural people
throughout the world.
Moving toward sustainable rural development requires
firm political will to overcome the remaining urban bias,
thus slowing down excessive rates of urbanization. What
is required are commitment and participation at all
levels, including civil society, and investment in the
rural areas to strengthen the diverse roles that they
have in society.
As also stated by the World Food Summit, we must find
new ways of mobilising public and private resources for
rural development and food security. I am convinced that
success in achieving food security through a better focus
on rural development will contribute to a more peaceful
world and free even more resources for development.
I thank you for your attention.