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Press Release 00/32

WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY
A MESSAGE FROM DR JACQUES DIOUF
DIRECTOR GENERAL
UN FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION (FAO)


Rome, 2 June -- World Environment Day has a particular resonance for FAO because our land and water environment and its protection and conservation is vital to every area of the Organization's activity: be it agriculture, forestry or fisheries.

Only through sustainable rural development and by developing sustainable ways of using natural resources will it be possible to meet the challenge to provide food security for the world's hungry millions: 790 million in the developing countries.

A particular challenge for the new millennium is that sources of growth in agricultural production, needed to meet the needs of a growing world population, have to undergo a fundamental change. The past pattern of expanding areas of land in use is already reaching its limits. About 80 percent of agricultural production growth will now have to come from sustainable intensification. Mechanisms for practical adoption by farmers of existing technologies, followed by substantial agricultural research, will be needed to make this shift economically attractive and environmentally friendly.

And growth in agricultural output will have to be achieved against a background of increasing scarcity of fresh water. Already agriculture is the greatest consumer of this previous resource, taking almost 70% of available water. FAO believes in a future in which agriculture and other activities are carried out in harmony with the environment, with clean water in streams, lakes and aquifers, surrounded by and integrated with healthy natural ecosystems.

Successful management of water is vital to development. In Africa, for example, only 8% of arable land is irrigated. This is a massive constraint to growth. It was identified decades ago, but the solution chosen then - large costly infrastructures of dams and major schemes - was not the answer. What was required, and is still required, is manageable, environmentally friendly, small-scale water harvesting, irrigation and drainage schemes that poor rural communities can construct and maintain themselves. That is what FAO is concentrating on in its Special Programme for Food Security, being implemented in 60 countries around the world.

In this new millennium, resolving conflicts about land use is going to be essential to the development of sustainable agriculture and a lasting solution to hunger. Action is also urgently needed to reverse the degradation of agricultural land and declining soil fertility. If investment is not made in land rehabilitation and conservation today, the cost of doing so tomorrow will be much greater.

Around the world, there are encouraging signs of progress. For the first time in a millennium, more trees are being planted than cut down. There has been good progress in institutional development in the area of plant and animal genetic resources. Many countries have launched integrated pest management programmes to cut the amounts of chemical pesticides they use.

Increasingly countries are adopting FAO's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Fisheries, including aquaculture, provide a vital source of food, employment, recreation, trade and economic well-being for people throughout the world, both for present and future generations and should be conducted in a responsible manner. The Code sets out principles and international standards of behaviour for responsible practices with a view to ensuring the effective conservation, management and development of living aquatic resources, with due respect for the ecosystem and biodiversity.

The FAO Forestry Programme addresses one of the most important, complex and controversial issues of modern times - how to use trees, forests and related resources to improve people's economic, environmental, social and cultural conditions while ensuring that the resource is conserved to meet the needs of future generations.

Overall, there is a growing awareness among both developed and developing countries and economies in transition, of the need to integrate environmental concerns in agricultural, forestry and fishery policies. It is a trend that FAO will continue to encourage.

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For more information please contact:

Nick Parsons
Chief, Media Relations Branch
tel: 39 06 57053276, e-mail: Nick.Parsons@fao.org


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