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Press Release 01/29


Brussels, 15 May 2001. - The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today proposed setting up a US$98 million fund to help the world's least developed countries (LDCs) improve the safety and quality of their food products. The proposal was made at the third UN Conference on the LDCs (Brussels, 14-20 May) .

The fund would support projects to develop, rehabilitate, upgrade and sustain national food safety and quality systems in the LDCs. It would also assist them to comply with international requirements and help them participate in international standard-setting bodies such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

"Improving the safety and quality standards of LDC agricultural and fisheries products would significantly improve their export performance and, at the same time, protect their domestic consumers and those in importing countries," FAO says.

The fund would be set up with voluntary contributions from bilateral and multilateral donors. It would take about US$2 million per country, or US$98 million in total, for the 49 LDCs, to achieve this objective within 3-5 years, according to FAO.

"The economies of LDCs now have to compete in a more fiercely competitive and increasingly globalised world market," FAO's Assistant Director-General Hartwig de Haen said.

Underlining the "crucial importance" of investment in agriculture, Mr. de Haen pointed out that "most LDCs are far from being at a cutting edge of available agricultural technology and there is great potential to increase both productivity and production." However "substantial investment" is needed in irrigation and rural infrastructure, human development and institutions. He emphasized that "a renewed focus on agricultural and rural development" and increased external assistance for LDCs were extremely important because "new developments such as in biotechnology may pose further threats to competitiveness of agriculture" in these countries.

"FAO estimates have indicated that if the recent trends of actual annual investment in primary agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa were to be continued until 2015, they would fall short by 38 percent compared to the level of investments needed to reach the World Food Summit target of halving under-nourishment in this region of the world. Achieving that target, therefore, requires a huge increase in investment in agriculture," Mr. de Haen said.

Five years ago, world leaders gathered at the World Food Summit in Rome, pledged to work towards eradicating hunger. This year, a follow-up meeting, World Food Summit: five years later, will be held at FAO headquarters in Rome, 5-9 November 2001. Participants will review progress made towards the goal of the 1996 World Food Summit - to reduce the number of hungry people by half by 2015 - and consider ways to accelerate the process.

Between 1969-71 and 1996-98, the proportion of undernourished in total population in LDCs increased from 38 percent to 40 percent, while the absolute number of undernourished increased from 116 million to 235 million. For the developing countries taken together, by contrast, the proportion of undernourished in total population decreased from 37 to 18 percent during the same period.

In addition, many LDCs changed from being net food exporters during the 1960s to net food importers during the 1980s and 1990s. Current projections are for their dependence on imports to increase at least up to 2015, according to FAO.

Technical assistance from FAO helps LDCs to meet pressing short-term needs and to build a modern food and agricultural sector by better exploiting their human and natural resource potentials.

Between 1992 and 2000, the value of FAO field projects in LDCs totalled some US$849 million, or 31 percent of its total field programme. These projects met a wide range of needs, from emergency relief and agricultural rehabilitation to practical assistance to government programmes for food security, sustainable agriculture and rural development. In the year 2000 alone, more than 700 field projects, with a total budget value of US$423 million, were active in 46 of the 49 LDCs.

In 1994, FAO launched its Special programme for food security (SPFS) which is now operational in 62 countries, including 34 LDCs (25 in Africa, six in Asia and the Pacific, one in the Caribbean and two in the Near East). The objective of the SPFS is to help poor countries improve food security both at national and at household levels by promoting rapid increases in food production and productivity, reducing annual fluctuations in production and improving people's access to food.


For further information please call FAO's media relations officer Pierre Antonios (0039.348.2572921) or consult the FAO Home page under News Briefs:
FAO participates in UN Conference on Least Developed Countries

On the eve of the UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (Brussels, 14-20 May 2001), Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Dr. Jacques Diouf, points out that there still is a lack of priority at the political level, for fighting hunger and poverty.

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