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Press Release 97/45


Rome, October 16, -- World Food Day was observed in more than 150 countries today, focusing on the theme "Investing in Food Security" to promote broader public awareness of the need for increased funding for agriculture and food production, particularly in the poorer rural communities of the developing world.

Nepalese King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini and the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Dr. Jacques Diouf, spoke at FAO Headquarters in Rome, where a message from Pope John Paul II was delivered by Archbishop Alois Wagner, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to FAO.

King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, the first King ever to address a World Food Day ceremony at FAO Headquarters, said, "It is an irony that shortage of food is perennial in cities as well as the countryside of developing countries, resulting in the death of an estimated 18 million people by hunger every year, while the world's total cereal production, if equally distributed, is said to be enough to meet twice the daily minimum per capita requirement of its entire population."

Speaking about the situation in South Asia, which the King called, "home to almost half of the world's poor," he said, "Two-thirds of children in this region are born in underweight - the highest in the world. Moreover," the King added, "a vicious inter-generational cycle of malnutrition is a fact of life. Malnourished mothers give birth to low birthweight babies who are more prone to sickness. With a gender bias against the female child in intra-family food allocation, which itself is inadequate, the mother of the future is malnourished."

In his address, Dr. Diouf focused on one of the most essential commitments of the World Food Summit: to increase investment in food security. "For, if the goal of food security for all is to be reached there must be significant increases in food production, and improved access to food."

He noted that much of the investment in food security would continue to be private, three quarters of that coming from the millions of small farmers, traders, village artisans, entrepreneurs and others engaged in the production and distribution of food in the poorer countries of the world through their investment in such improvements as water control and land development, better seeds and pest prevention. However, "the remaining one quarter of investment, some $41 billion each year will consist of public investments to create and maintain the conditions for profitable private-sector activity," Dr. Diouf said.

He said, if official multilateral and bilateral financial support provide the same share as in the past, some $15 billion will be needed annually to help the poorest countries meet the public investment requirements. "Unfortunately," Dr. Diouf added, "external development assistance to agriculture has fallen steadily in the last ten years."

Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini told those gathered at the ceremony: "Combating poverty and being committed to tackling its root causes in order to eradicate it are moral and political duties to be performed in terms of the economic and social dimensions of the countries involved," said Mr. Dini.

He urged the world to "pool and rationalize the efforts that we are all deploying bilaterally and through the multilateral organizations."

In a message read by Archbishop Wagner, the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, wrote on behalf of Pope John Paul II: "Correct political economic and environmental conditions are necessary to provide a constant and adequate level of food security. Translated into the ethics of international relations, this means focusing attention on the individual and collective commitment to devising practical ways of implementing a real sharing of resources, so that everyone will feel responsible for his neighbor - whether person, community, nation or State."

Established in 1979 by FAO's biennial governing Conference, World Food Day is observed each year on the anniversary of the founding of FAO in Quebec City, Canada on Oct. 16, 1945 to highlight the world food problem and seek solutions. It was observed this year with various commemorative events in more that 150 countries around the world.

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