PR 97/63

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Press Release 97/63

FAO DIRECTOR-GENERAL WARNS OF WIDENING GAP BETWEEN RICH AND POOR COUNTRIES IN OPENING CONFERENCE SPEECH


Rome, November 8 -- Dwindling levels of development aid to the world’s poorest countries mean that the gap between the wealthy and the poor is bound to widen, Dr Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, warned today.

“Development aid continues to dwindle in real terms, having hovered at a nominal 60 billion dollars in recent years. Aid to the agricultural sector plunged from 16 billion dollars in 1988 to 10 billion in 1995, though there are welcome signs of a change in direction. The gap between rich and poor can only widen under such conditions, both within and between countries,” Dr Diouf told the 29th biennial FAO Conference, which will be discussing the state of food and agriculture in the world over the next week and also deciding the Organization’s Programme of Work and Budget for the next two years.

“Furthermore, armed conflict and food emergencies continue, the one very often abetting the other. Peace may be a prerequisite for food security, but there can be no peaceful life for populations affected by hunger,” he said.

Dr Diouf told delegates: “The state of food and agriculture is one of contrasts. The acute tensions on the food commodity markets of 1995-96 have been largely absorbed by the good harvests of 1996. Yet, many countries continue to face difficulties and early estimates for 1997 indicate a rise in world agricultural output of only 1.1 percent.”

He continued: “The high cost of food imports has posed serious financial difficulties for many low-income, food-deficit countries and has slowed their progress towards food security,” and went on to warn: “Several developing countries, crushed by an external debt burden totalling 2.177 billion dollars in 1996, are increasingly at risk of being marginalized.”

The Director-General described actions taken in the year since the World Food Summit in Rome, which pledged to reduce the number of the world’s chronically hungry and malnourished. “Actually halving the total of 800 million people without adequate access to food by the year 2015 calls for more than speeches, seminars, studies and consultants’ reports. Concrete field actions have therefore been conducted, spearheaded by the Special Programme for Food Security which targets rural communities in poor countries. The Programme is already operational in 24 of these countries and formulation is under way in a further 42,” Dr Diouf said.

He recalled that the World Food Summit had strongly emphasized the need to involve all of civil society in the fight against hunger, which was why FAO had encouraged the launching of national Food for All campaigns. “I should like to reiterate

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my appeal to all governments to launch these campaigns, establishing fora that will group all development players and partners (parliamentarians, NGOs, the private sector, womens’ associations, youth organizations, the media, universities, and so forth),” Dr Diouf said.

It was in this context that FAO had recently organized the first TeleFood global telecast marking World Food Day. This had helped bring the problems of hunger and malnutrition to the attention of some 500 million television viewers in more than 70 countries, he said.

The Director-General described the measures taken to reform FAO both through decentralization and trimming staff numbers. A total of 503 posts, or 12 percent of the staff, had been eliminated since 1994, he said. Annual efficiency savings of US$25 million had been made in part through these staff reductions, but also through cuts in travel, translation, publication and meetings costs.

Dr Diouf also reviewed FAO’s activities over the past two years, emphasizing the high priority the organization gives to promoting the role of women in development. “The Committee on Women and Development is successfully encouraging all FAO technical departments to bear gender parity in mind when formulating their programmes and projects,” he said.

For the coming two-year budget period, Dr Diouf is proposing to the Conference a zero real growth scenario, which would mean a budget of US$675.3 million. However, at the request of the Council, he has also developed a zero nominal growth option which would peg the budget at US$650 million. Approved expenditure for 1996-97 was US$650 million. The zero real growth scenario would allow FAO to maintain its capacity in priority areas, Dr Diouf said.

“First, in its normative work, including the International Plant Protection Convention, the Code of Conduct on Pesticides, the Codex Alimentarius, the conservation and management of genetic resources, responsible fisheries and evaluation of forest resources. Second, its technical assistance to Member States, provided at their own request, such as implementation of the Marrakesh Agreement, development of non-polluting aquaculture, conservation and management of forests, control of pests and diseases, early warning of food shortages and the role of women in rural development. Finally, the zero real growth scenario would enable FAO to maintain its direct support to countries in the form of policy advice, help in implementation of the Summit Plan of Action, investment support and field operations, particularly the Special Programme for Food Security.”

Dr Diouf warned that if the Conference selected the lower zero nominal growth option, “despite all efforts to the contrary, only some of these priority areas could be maintained.” He added: “Clearly - and this needs to be emphasized - the negative impact of a below zero nominal growth budget on programmes of high priority to Member Countries would obviously be aggravated.”

The Conference is due to vote on the budget next Friday, 14 November.

Putting his proposals in context, Dr Diouf noted: “FAO’s budget is just over two days’ consumption of tobacco in North America and less than two months’ consumption of champagne in one European country.

“Where, then, does the fight against the hunger of 800 million human beings fit in the scale of priorities of the affluent?”

Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, followed the FAO Director-General to the podium the 29th session of the FAO Conference, with a message from Pope John Paul II. He said: “For an effective campaign against hunger, it is not enough to aim at a correct evaluation of market forces or to attain higher and higher levels of production. Certainly, an adequate place needs to be given to agricultural work through even better use of the human resources which play a fundamental role in this activity, but it is necessary to recover the true value of the human person and the person’s central role as the foundation and primary objective of every action undertaken.”

He added, “If we want the world to be free from hunger and malnutrition, we must ask ourselves about our deepest convictions, about what inspires our action, about how our talent is used for the benefit of the present and future of the human family. There are many paradoxes underlying the causes of hunger, starting with abundance.”


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