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"The Right to Food"

Curriculum vitae of Dr Jacques Diouf

 


"Sustainable Rural Development and World Food Security"

Statement of the Director-General to the International Conference "Rural 21"

Potsdam, Germany, 5 June 2000

Your Excellency, President Rau of the Federal Republic of Germany,
Your Excellency, Prime Minister Stolpe of Brandenburg,
Your Excellency, Minister Funke, Federal Minister for Food, Agriculture and Forestry of the Federal Republic of Germany,
Honorable Ministers,
Your Excellency, Mr. Platzech, Lord Mayor of Potsdam,
Excellencies,
Distinguished delegates,
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.

Introduction

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 conflicts.

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 hope.

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 view.

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 all.

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.

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

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.

 

 

 


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