Press Release 97/22

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Press Release 97/22

IN THE FACE OF CONTINUED FOOD SHORTAGES IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA AND SOME ASIAN COUNTRIES;
FAO DIRECTOR-GENERAL WARNS THAT FURTHER BUDGET CUTS WILL REDUCE FAO PROGRAM ACTIVITIES AND SUBSTANTIVE OUTPUT


ROME, June 3 -- The Council of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has convened to review the world food situation and the Organization’s “Summary Programme of Work and Budget” in a session cut from 10 days to six as part of the Organization’s on-going efforts to save funds by reducing operating and administrative costs. The Council is the Organization’s interim governing body between biennial meetings of the FAO Conference.

In remarks to the opening session on Monday, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said the most important contribution expected from FAO in the wake of last year’s World Food Summit, which adopted the Summit Plan of Action, was in the area of agricultural development. “In this connection, the Special Programme for Food Security in the low-income food-deficit countries which was launched - with your agreement - well before the Summit, will continue as one of the central pillars of FAO’s action in the field. The ultimate goal, of course, is to improve living conditions of the poorest sectors of the rural population, particularly the women,” said Dr. Diouf.

“However, the aims of the Rome Declaration are ambitious and require substantial resources. But, at a time of budget stringencies for governments and international organizations everywhere, we need to be innovative in our search for the funds needed to implement the Summit Plan of Action,” Dr. Diouf told the Council. He said that in addition to agreements signed in January 1997 with the World Bank and the African Development Bank for the promotion of rural development and food security in Africa, talks are also underway with the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme to secure their support for the Special Programme. FAO also launched a number of parallel initiatives to rally civil society and the decentralized institutions and in so doing to build upon the momentum that was generated by the Summit.

The FAO Director-General also disclosed plans for a worldwide audio-visual event dubbed TeleFood, which he said was “designed, first, to hold the decisions taken at the Summit in the public eye and, second, to invoke the solidarity of all people concerned about the problem of hunger in the world.”

Dr. Diouf proposed a zero real growth budget of $689 million for 1998/99, which would cover cost increases of $39 million. But, for the first time he also presented the Council two alternative scenarios: a $700 million real growth budget and a zero nominal growth budget of $650 million which would require FAO to absorb the $39 million in cost increases. However, Dr. Diouf also warned that there were limits to efficiency savings and said that a budget of $650 million would entail program cuts.

In October 1995 the Conference handed FAO a two-year budget of $650 million -- versus the no real growth budget of $707 million which had been requested. Much of this reduction was possible because of major improvements in efficiency and in reductions in administrative costs -- in fact, 70 percent of the total reduction was covered by these savings.

In his introduction of the “Summary Programme of Work and Budget 1998-99,” he said it was clear that the zero real growth scenario and the real growth scenario would entail increased assessments, but said: “Equally clearly, the zero nominal growth scenario would entail no increase in assessments, but carries a price in terms of substantially reduced program activity and substantive output for the benefit of the membership.”

Dr. Diouf’s comments came as 29 countries faced exceptional food emergencies in spite of what FAO said was “an appreciable improvement in the world production of staple foods in 1996 and a return to the upward trend in global output after the disappointing crops harvested in several parts of the world during the preceding year. As a result, the global supply situation improved in 1996/97, prices fell and aggregate cereal carryover stocks are anticipated to rise modestly for the first time in four years.”

The 29 countries that have either failed to benefit from the improved food outlook, or that face food emergencies for other reasons, such as localized weather hazards, and large numbers of displaced and vulnerable people, are: Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burundi, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, DPR Korea, Laos, Liberia, Mauritania, Mongolia, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Turkmenistan, Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

FAO’s Director-General also informed the Council that the Republic of Kazakstan has formally applied for membership in FAO to become its 176th member. The application will be considered by the Conference at its 29th Session in November 1997.


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