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Press Release 01/26

In a speech at an ECOSOC High-Level Panel in New York

New York, 27 April 2001 - Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), today said that "political will to fight hunger on a sustainable basis and a firm commitment to invest in agriculture and rural development are critical elements of any effort aspiring to achieve sustainable alleviation of hunger and poverty in Africa."

"It is well known that poverty is at the root of hunger and undernourishment. What often escapes our attention, however, is that hunger and malnutrition are also major causes of poverty," Dr. Diouf underlined.

The head of the UN specialized agency was addressing a High-Level Panel on "Agriculture and Sustainable Food Security in Africa: Meeting Basic Needs", organized by FAO in preparation for the ECOSOC Substantive Session to be held in Geneva in July.

He pointed out that alleviating hunger was crucial for a number of countries in the African continent trapped in a situation of low and fragile economic growth. "Although FAO estimates that the percentage of undernourished people in Sub-Saharan Africa will fall to 22 percent by 2015, the absolute number is expected to increase from 180 million in 1995/1997 to 184 million in 2015."

In 1996, Heads of State and Government attending the World Food Summit in Rome pledged to reduce the number of the world's hungry to half the present level by 2015. They will meet again in Rome in November this year to review progress in implementing the Plan of Action they adopted in 1996.

More than 800 million people still suffer from hunger and undernutrition in the world today and according to FAO, unless extra efforts are made to accelerate progress in the fight against hunger, the World Food Summit goal will not be achieved before 2030, 15 years late.

"It is unthinkable that any discourse, commitment or action regarding alleviation of hunger and poverty can be carried out without special targeting of Africa and the full involvement of its leaders and people," Dr. Diouf said.

In 1990, Africa received 30% of Official Development Assistance going to agriculture, whereas its share declined to 21% in 1998.

Commenting on globalization which, he said, offers opportunities for growth and development in all parts of the world, the head of the UN specialized agency said: "The hopes and promises attached to rapid liberalisation of trade and finance have not so far been fulfilled in many African countries."

Many factors inhibit African countries from benefiting more fully from trade. Among them, Dr. Diouf mentioned supply-side constraints in the countries themselves, and persistent high levels of support and protection provided to agriculture by many of the richer countries in the world.

"African countries urgently need more equitable market access for their agricultural products, particularly for higher-value processed products, and substantial infusions of technical and financial assistance in overcoming domestic supply constraints," Dr. Diouf said.

The FAO Director-General added that the mobilisation of resources - public, private, domestic, international - to increase the productive capacity of agriculture was critical for alleviating extreme poverty and reducing undernourishment and malnutrition.

"Many of the health problems that afflict people in Africa stem from, and are exacerbated by hunger and malnutrition. Poor health, in turn, impairs productivity and constrains social and economic development. The importance of breaking this downward spiral in Africa cannot be overemphasised," Dr. Diouf also said.

"To grasp the magnitude of the scope for promotion of agricultural growth in the region, we need to consider that fertiliser use in Africa is some 19 kg per ha per year, compared to 100 kg per ha in East Asia and 230 kg per ha in West Europe. And in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 2.7 percent of all harvested area is irrigated, compared to 11.7 percent in Latin America and 42.6 percent in South Asia.", Dr. Diouf pointed out.


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