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Press Release 01/32


St. Louis, Missouri, 20 May 2001. - Addressing the contract between society and agriculture at the World Agricultural Forum in St. Louis, Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), called on Sunday (20 May) for increased efforts towards ensuring all people regular access to safe and nutritious food.

"Unless efforts are stepped up by national governments, international bodies and organizations of the civil society, widespread hunger - a stain on the world's conscience and a constraint to security, stability and economic growth - will remain with us in the decades to come," warned Dr. Diouf.

"Despite the abundance of food suggested by world-wide figures and trends, hundreds of millions of people continue to go to bed hungry every night," the FAO Director-General said.

Although the proportion of the world population in a chronic state of undernourishment has declined from 37 to 18 percent in the last 30 years, the actual number of undernourished people declined only from 960 million to 790 million in developing countries. At the same time, there are 34 million hungry and undernourished in the industrialised countries, according to FAO.

Underlining the critical need for more investments in agriculture, the head of the UN specialized agency deplored that agricultural and trade policies in a number of industrialised countries have not always provided a conducive environment for the development of agriculture in developing countries.

"In 1999 alone, the total subsidies to agriculture by OECD countries was estimated at US$361.5 billion, or 1.4% of their total GDP," Dr. Diouf said. "This support is in accord with the WTO agreements, but there is little doubt that it gives the industrialised countries a competitive edge which poorer countries cannot match. It is also interesting to compare this support with the total flow of official development assistance to agriculture, which reached US$ 7.4 billion in 1998."

Commenting on the challenges to agriculture in meeting the basic needs of society - while addressing concerns to health, natural resources and the environment - Dr. Diouf said: "The need for sound judgements is greater than ever before, as we are now closer to critical thresholds which could limit production."

The FAO Director-General underlined that "alleviating hunger in the world is not only a moral imperative for the global society, but is also beneficial for the economic and security interests of all societies."

"Hunger is often not just a result but also a cause or a fuelling component of conflict and civil strife, and has direct influence on uncontrolled immigration and urbanization."

Dr. Diouf stressed that "a fundamental prerequisite for solving the problem of hunger is that the global society perceives hunger, no matter where it exists, as part of its contract with agriculture and takes the necessary steps in fulfilling its obligations under this contract."

In 1996, at the World Food Summit, 186 countries, 112 of which represented by their Heads of State or Government, made a solemn pledge to reduce the number of undernourished by half by the year 2015, from about 800 to about 400 million people. To achieve this target, a reduction in the number of undernourished by 20 million per year is necessary, but the current annual rate of reduction is only 8 million, according to FAO.

There was still much to be done to meet the requirements of those who are hungry and depend on agriculture to satisfy their need for food. "For this reason, and with the aim of strengthening the political will expressed in 1996 and defining and making available the necessary resources, both at international and national levels, the Governing Bodies of FAO have decided to invite again the Heads of State and Government to a "World Food Summit: five years later" which will be held from 5 to 9 November of this year in Rome," Dr. Diouf said.

Data for 1999 showed that 60% of the total population in developing countries live in rural areas, while the share of agriculture to total labor force is also close to 60%. In many countries with high levels of undernourishment, agriculture accounts for more than 50% of the total gross national product. Agriculture also provides a livelihood for 70% of the poor and the food insecure, either directly or from sectors or activities linked to it.

For the developing countries as a whole, the shortfall in gross agricultural investment necessary to achieve the World Food Summit goals is 12% per year. Moreover, the share of external resources in the form of aid or lending going to the agricultural sector of developing countries shows a declining trend, Dr. Diouf said.


For more information, please consult FAO's website: or call FAO media relations officer, Michael Hage, Washington D.C., tel.: 202.6530011, cell phone: 703.8626075; email:

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