PR 97/61

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Press Release 97/61


ROME, November 7 -- The governing Conference of theUN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) opened today amid concern that world food production in 1997 may increase by only 1.1 percent, down from the 3.6 percent rise in 1996 over 1995.

To cut world hunger and malnutrition in half by 2015, a key commitment of the 1996 World Food Summit, food availability will have to increase substantially in the many countries where large numbers of people are unable to secure enough food to provide the minimum amount of calories necessary for a normal, healthy life. There are more than 800 million chronically undernourished people in the developing world, 200 million of them are children under five.

This comes as food aid declined a steep 37 percent in 1996/97 to just 4.9 million tons of cereals -- the lowest level since the start of food aid programs in the 1950s.

In its opening session, the Agriculture Ministers and senior officials from FAO’s 175 member countries that make up the FAO Conference, elected Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Lyle Vanclief as Chairman of the Conference. China’s Agriculture Minister Liu Jiang, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Minister for Rural Development Paul Bandoma, and Georgia’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to FAO Beglar Tavartkiladze were elected vice-chairmen.

Upon his election Vanclief said, “There is a growing recognition that food security is a key building block to stability within families, economies and nations. For over 50 years the FAO has worked to increase food security and thereby lower the number of people throughout the world who do not have enough nourishing food to eat.”

Following consideration of proposals submitted by FAO’s Director-General, the Conference will decide the Organization’s 1998-99 Programme of Work and Budget during its nine-day session. FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf proposed a budget of $675.3 million -- sufficient to maintain FAO’s programmes at the same level as 1996-97. At the request of the Council, Dr. Diouf also included detailed information showing the extent of program cuts necessary should the budget be fixed at the zero nominal growth level of $650 million.

In his introduction to the Programme of Work and Budget, Dr. Diouf said, “The next biennium should also embody consolidation of the extensive process of change undertaken since 1994. By end 1997, the streamlined Headquarters structure - and its slimmer staff complement - will be buttressed by vastly strengthened professional teams in the Regional and Sub-regional Offices. These decentralized offices together with the FAO Representatives, will be the front line in the provision of direct services to Member Nations and in supporting the Field Programme.”

The Conference will receive FAO’s annual report, The State of Food and Agriculture 1997, which examines global and regional developments in food and agriculture issues. The report contains a special chapter on the role of agroindustry in economic development, as well as special sections focusing on forests in a global context, raising women’s productivity in agriculture and global climate change abatement policies.


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