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Press Release 01/51


Rome, 11 September 2001 -- Economic growth can be positively influenced by improved nutrition, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today in a special section of its annual report, The State of Food and Agriculture 2001 (SOFA 2001). “The impact of nutrition on labour productivity, health and education ultimately filters through to higher levels of overall economic growth.”

 Raising the per capita calorie intake to 2770 calories per day in countries where it is below that level could increase the per capita GDP growth in those countries by between 0.34 and 1.48 percentage points per year, according to the report. SOFA 2001 is being released two months before world leaders will gather at the World Food Summit: five years later from 5-9 November at FAO’s invitation. Government officials, NGOs and other civil society organizations will work out ways to reduce the number of hungry people in world so that their number may be cut from the roughly 800 million who were hungry in 1996 to no more than half that amount by 2015.

In the 1996-98 period, FAO found some 826 million people worldwide were undernourished, facing a shortfall in their basic daily energy requirements of between 100 and 400 calories. While the consequences of an inadequate diet are not always visible, according to FAO, “undernourishment leads to a lower nutritional status, or undernutrition, to which the body adjusts by slowing down its physical activity and, in the case of children, growth.” Undernutrition also increases susceptibility to disease and causes listlessness, limiting the ability of children to concentrate.

The extent of micronutrient deficiencies is staggering, says the report. “An estimated 740 million people suffer from disorders related to iodine deficiency, including mental retardation, delayed motor development and stunting. There are more than 16 million cretins and nearly 49.5 million people suffering from brain damage caused by iodine deficiency. About 2 billion people are anemic, mainly as a result of iron deficiency. Iron deficiency, the most common micronutrient disorder, reduces physical productivity as well as having a negative impact on children’s cognitive skills.”

In addition, the report says that between 100 million and 140 million children suffer from vitamin A deficiency.

The report says: “Better nutrition leads to increased human capital and labour productivity through the channels of improved health and education, which in turn results in improved household and nation welfare, i.e. economic growth. Improved nutrition affects economic growth directly through its impact on labour productivity and indirectly through improvements in life expectancy,” says the report.

FAO urges “targeted action against maternal and infant malnutrition” which should always accompany investment in health, education and sanitation. It says that improved protein and energy intake as well as reduced iodine, iron and vitamin A deficiencies, generates widespread health benefits for individuals as well as society.

According to the report, the biggest impact comes from improvements in the health of women, because this not only benefits families and communities today, but will also have a major impact on the health and productivity of the next generation.

In its special chapter on ‘Economic Impacts of Transboundary Plant Pests and Animal Diseases,’ FAO warns that the spread of emergent diseases and invasive species has increased dramatically in recent years.

The rapidly increasing transboundary movements of goods and people, trade liberalization, increasing concerns about food safety and the environment have heightened the need for international cooperation in controlling and managing transboundary pests and diseases.

Plant pests and animal diseases are a permanent threat to crop and livestock producers and often cause major economic losses, FAO says. “Growth in the trade of fresh fruits and vegetables is responsible for many of the quarantine pest problems today,” the report adds.

In many countries, there is a trend towards increased intensification and commercialization of livestock production. The higher concentration of animals often provides greater opportunity for animal diseases and other infections to spread rapidly and cause economic losses, FAO says.

The economic losses from plant pests and animal diseases can be enormous, but the type of economic impact can be complex. For many types of pests and diseases the economic losses resulting from reduced demand or the loss of export markets can far outweigh the costs caused by direct losses in production. The report reviews a number of studies assessing the economic impact of pests and diseases. For example, based on existing volumes of trade and phytosanitary restrictions, the Mediterranean fruit fly would cause more than $800 million in lost output and trade if it became established in the United States, according to one study cited in the report. Another study suggests that the 1996 eradication of foot-and-mouth disease in Uruguay could provide $20 million of actual and $90 million of potential additional exports revenue.

Significant technological progress has been made in combating transboundary plant pests and diseases, FAO says, but this alone is not enough. In many cases, countries have also rapidly and frankly shared information on disease and pest outbreaks and they have harmonized disease control programmes. However, “a lack of cooperation among countries in many parts of the world has been a major constraint to the successful control of transboundary animal diseases.”

In the chapter, FAO calls for increased regional and international cooperation. Developing countries should receive assistance “because not all countries can face the cost of prevention and reaction alone.”

SOFA 2001 also contains a section about negotiations on international agricultural trade, which were launched within the World Trade Organization. Agricultural trade is particularly important for most developing countries that are exporters and importers of agricultural goods. Barriers to agricultural trade still represent a significant obstacle for many of them. The complexity of import regimes and the cost of complying with sanitary and phytosanitary standards and technical barriers to trade can be insurmountable obstacles, particularly for small developing countries. It is important that a new round of agricultural trade negotiations leads to greater opportunities for developing countries to participate in international agricultural trade, says FAO.

The 295-page book also contains a CD-ROM, with time series data for 150 countries, country groups and regions in English, French and Spanish, together with FAOSTAT TS software to ensure easy access and use.

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For additional information contact:
FAO Media Office, telephone: 0039 06 5705 3625

Related links:

The State of Food and Agriculture 2001
Latin American farmers get back on their feet
Presentation by Mr. Hartwig de Haen, Assistant Director-General

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