Press Release 00/50
FAO's ANNUAL REPORT ON THE STATE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE DRAWS LESSONS FROM
THE PAST 50 YEARS
DESPITE TANGIBLE PROGRESS, 13 PERCENT OF HUMANITY STILL SUFFERS FROM HUNGER
AND RELATED DISEASES
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
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
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
(http://www.fao.org) or call FAO's media
relations branch (tel. 0039.06.57052232) or Pierre Antonios (Paris, cellular