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
“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
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
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,”
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.”