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Paris, 15 September 2000.- More than 800 million people still lack access to the food they need, much less than the 960 million estimated 30 years ago, but still a massive number accounting for 13 percent of the world's population, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says in its annual report "The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA-2000)," released today at a news conference at the Institut National Agronomique, Paris-Grignon.

Undernourishment, especially in populous Asian countries, has diminished. Famine now only occurs in exceptional circumstances, but Africa is still a major focus of developmental concern, SOFA indicates.

The past 50 years have left a backlog of unresolved problems, new challenges, risks and uncertainties. "For a long time, the key contribution made by agriculture to econonomic and social development has not always been recognized. Moreover, world hunger has failed to attract the sustained attention it warrants," according to FAO.

SOFA points out that the last years of the twentieth century were generally unfavourable for world food and agriculture. "Many developing countries have been facing unusually adverse climatic conditions, together with the negative economic impact of the financial crisis that erupted in 1997, declining prices of several of their major commodity exports and, in a number of cases, political instability and conflicts."

"Food supply disruptions, associated with these problems, have led to the outbreak or persistence of serious food emergency situations in a large number of countries - currently more than 30 - around the world."

"Prospects for a continuation of the productivity growth seen in the past are hindered in many countries by land degradation, strained water resources and reduced irrigation investment opportunities. However, there is now evidence that biotechnology can contribute substantially to overcoming these problems, provided adequate precautions are taken against negative outcomes," SOFA says.

Four prominent experts contributed articles to the FAO report. They are professors Marcel Mazoyer (INA-PG), Michael Lipton (Sussex), Robert Evenson (Yale) and Pranab K. Bardhan (Berkeley). In a special chapter on lessons learned from the past 50 years, their studies focus on: - The socio-economic impact of agricultural modernization; - Food and nutrition security: why food production matters; - Agricultural production and productivity in developing countries; - Political economy in the alleviation of poverty and food insecurity.

In his study, professor Mazoyer explains that "world food security is first and foremost a matter of grossly inadequate means of production of the world's poorest peasant farmers who cannot meet their food needs ..." It is also a matter of insufficient purchasing power." He deplores the widening gap between small-scale traditional farmers and those involved in industrial agriculture because a continuation of this process could lead to explosive situations for both rural and urban societies.

In the second study, professor Lipton states that "for food-insecure low-income populations, higher yields (per hectare and per litre) for food staples and therefore extra employment and self-employment income in growing them, will be the main source of enhanced food security, at least until 2020." But he also emphasizes the crucial importance of a nutritionally balanced diet and warns against "second generation" nutritional problems. Obesity, in particular, is a more serious threat than is commonly realized.

Professor Evenson, in the third study, underlines that investments are essential for growth in agricultural productivity. However, "governments of developing countries and development agencies have not always been able to distinguish between productive and essential public investments and unproductive and non-essential public investments where the private sector is the efficient form of economic organization."

In the fourth study, professor Bardhan writes that "reducing poverty and food insecurity is not simply a question of enhancing agricultural productivity and production or of generating more income; it is fundamental to address institutional, political and economic factors that tend to exclude individuals and population groups from progress."

Commenting on the food security situation in the world, the FAO report says that "armed conflict and civil strife remain major sources of food insecurity and caused agricultural output losses estimated in all the developing countries at US$121 billion over the 28 years from 1970 to 1997, an average of US$4.3 billion per year,"

According to the report, the economic losses and disruptions to food supply and access caused by war and civil strife can be disastrous, especially in low-income countries where there are no effective social safety nets. Destruction of crops and livestock results, at best, in reduced food security and, at worst, in famine and death," says the FAO report.

The last 15 years have seen a larger number of food emergencies arising from natural or human-induced factors, and the latter have been increasing steadily. "Whereas human-induced disasters contributed to only about 10 percent of total emergencies in 1984, by late 1999 they were a determining factor in more than 50 percent of cases, the report says.

"Economic losses from conflict in developing countries exceeded total food aid to those countries in the 1980s and 1990s. For the full decade, the former were about US$37 billion and the latter US$29 billion," according to FAO.

One way to help farmers in poor countries is to offer them credit facilities. The report notes that borrowing through microcredit schemes is growing at a "phenomenal" pace in developing countries. "The total number of borrowers grew by 50 percent between 1998 and 1999 to reach 21 million globally; 12 million of these borrowers live on less than US$1 per day."

In the developing and transition countries, almost 1.2 billion people, or about one out of four, live on less than US$1 per day. Most of these people, including children, work long hours at physically demanding jobs just to survive. They turn to microcredit because they cannnot access formal credit sources.

At the SOFA launch, FAO also presented a study on the cost of hunger by Professor Jean-Louis Arcand (Universities of Montreal-Canada and Auvergne-France) analysing the impact of undernutrition on the Gross Domestic Product of developing countries. The report says: "Eliminating, or at least significantly reducing, poverty in a country will have an important impact on the growth rate of its GDP. Increasing the daily energy supply to 2,770 kcal per person per day in a sample of countries that were below that level could increase the average annual GDP growth rate by some 0.8 percent. This gives an idea of the magnitude of cumulative growth losses in countries suffering from malnutrition," according to professor Arcand.


For further information, please consult FAO website ( or call FAO's media relations branch (tel. 0039.06.57052232) or Pierre Antonios (Paris, cellular phone: 0673416001).

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