Press Release 97/21

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Press Release 97/21

FAO RECALLS IRISH POTATO FAMINE URGING VIGILANCE IN BATTLE AGAINST HUNGER AND RURAL POVERTY; SAYS INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY MUST STRIVE TO MEET THE WORLD FOOD SUMMIT GOAL TO REDUCE BY HALF THE NUMBER OF HUNGRY IN THE WORLD BY 2015


ROME, 1 June -- Calling on the world to remember the human cost of the Irish Potato famine that claimed the lives of over a million people and forced at least as many to emigrate, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today: “We must strive to ensure that such a tragedy is never repeated. To honor those who died and emigrated in search of food 150 years ago we should all work to implement the goal of the World Food Summit: to reduce by at least half the number of people without adequate access to food by the year 2015.” FAO estimates that about 840 million people are chronically undernourished in the developing world alone.

FAO’s comments were made in support of the Great Irish Famine Event, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Irish Potato Famine, caused when a fungus known as “late blight” devastated the potato crop, the main source of food for Irish farmers with small plots and those who worked the land of others. The FAO comments came as observances began this weekend in Ireland, inaugurating events throughout the country.

The Irish Potato famine was a dramatic example of the dangers of genetic uniformity. None of the few varieties of the New World potato introduced into Europe in the 1500s could resist the blight that struck Ireland’s potatoes between 1845 and 1850.

The Rome-based UN specialized agency also lauded the Irish Famine Event’s aim to raise funds to combat hunger and poverty around the world, taking note that the observation comes after the World Food Summit on the theme “Food for All” and before World Food Day, October 16, dedicated to the theme “Investing in Food Security.”

To prevent the reoccurrence of such devestation, FAO has frequently warned against the dangers of mono-cropping agricultural techniques that favour genetic uniformity. Typically, vast areas are planted to a single, high yielding variety inviting disaster because it leaves a crop susceptible to attack by pests and diseases.

While there are more than 80,000 edible plant species, only about 10,000 have been used in human history. Only 150 are cultivated today and just 12 provide more than 80 percent of human food. Just nine crops -- wheat, rice, maize, barley, sorghum, potato, sweet potato, sugar cane and soybean -- provide over 75 percent of the dietary energy derived from plants.


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