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Press Release 99/22

MILLENNIUM BUG THREATENS WORLD FARM PRODUCTION

UN Food and Agriculture Organization Warns that Developing Countries are also Vulnerable


Rome, 19 April --The Year 2000 (Y2K) problem threatens agricultural production and food supply systems worldwide, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today. A statement released on the Organization's Web Site cautioned that "the Millenium Bug could prove one of the most dangerous pests threatening farmers, along with the locusts and brown planthoppers they have battled with throughout the centuries."

The Y2K problem is caused by using double-digit years, assuming the first two digit to be always 19. When 1 January 2000 arrives that assumption will no longer be correct and many computers and embedded chips will read 00 as 1900 instead of the year 2000. The problem could throw computers around the world into chaos at the turn of the century,

Governments and industries in developed countries with highly integrated systems that are most at risk have been working for years to ferret out potential problems with computers and all that they control. According to the Gartner Group, achieving Y2K compliance comes at an estimated total cost of $600 billion and even if the problem is somewhat less critical in the developing countries, most of them just do not have the funds or the technical capability to take the same kind of precaution.

According to FAO, the computer-dependency of agriculture and food supply systems has received very little attention. "In one way or another, Year 2000 computer problems threaten almost all of the supplies and services essential for agricultural production," says FAO. Everything from seed supplies to distribution networks and market information systems is vulnerable to the Y2K problem.

"Even small farmers who till their fields with ox-drawn ploughs probably rely on supplies produced in high-tech factories and transported thousands of kilometers over computer-controlled transportation networks." On the production side, basic inputs like seeds and fertilizers may be vulnerable, including irrigation water and electricity. Harvested crops could also be hit by severe problems in processing, marketing and distribution systems that are crucial to food security, warns FAO.

Countries that depend heavily on exports of agricultural commodities as a major source of income and countries that rely on food imports and food aid to feed their people are especially threatened by Year 2000 problems, according to FAO. Farmers, traders and government ministries rely on telecommunications systems to deliver a steady flow of information on weather, prices and shipping, and in many countries, computerized telephone switching systems are considered among the most likely to fail.

The FAO statement says "farmers and governments in developing countries may not be able to remedy or avoid some Year 2000 problems, particularly those that may erupt in international financial, production and transportation systems. In many cases, their most realistic approach may be to concentrate limited time and resources available on developing and implementing contingency plans to cope with failures that countries do not have the means to prevent."

According to FAO: "Key elements in such plans may include, diversifying sources of supplies and services to reduce the impact of failure by any individual supplier. Other steps may include adopting procedures to ensure that failures are identified promptly and that alternative channels for delivery of essential goods and services are in place and ready to be activated if and when computerized systems fail."

Farmers and governments may decide to review the levels of their food security stocks and inventories of essential agricultural inputs.

FAO urges governments, agricultural industries and farmers to "focus priority on attention and adequate resources on the problem."

The UN Agency recommends taking the following actions immediately:

· Inventory critical functions and evaluate risks of failures

· Identify suppliers and delivery channels for all critical inputs, obtain information Y2K compliance and evaluate risks

· Assess options, time required, and cost for:

1. Correcting problems;
2. Replacing equipment or suppliers; or
3. Preparing contingency plans and materials to cope with likely failures

· Adopt approaches that will eliminate or minimize the impact of failures

· Assign clear responsibility and priority resources to implementing the agreed plans.

* * * * *

The full FAO Y2K Document is on the FAO Web Site at: http://www.fao.org/news/1999/990302-e.htm

For further information, contact John Riddle:
(00 39) 06 57 05 32 59, or
on cell phone number (00 39) 0 348 23 41 145 (The initial zero should be omitted when dialing from outside Italy.
e-mail: john.riddle@fao.org


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