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Press Release 01/92

FAO DIRECTOR-GENERAL CALLS ON PARLIAMENTARIANS TO PROMOTE A FAIRER WORLD TRADING SYSTEM AND ADVOCATE NATIONAL TARGETS FOR REDUCING HUNGER


Berlin, 16, November - National parliaments have an important role to play in reducing the severe distortions in global agricultural markets and establishing a more equitable international trading system for agriculture, Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), told European parliamentarians here today.

Dr. Diouf was delivering the keynote speech at a meeting of the Heads of Parliamentary Committees of EU Member States, EU Accession countries and the Russian Duma on "The Responsibilities of Parliaments for World Nutrition."

The FAO Director-General said: "The fight against hunger is neither simple nor easy. In addition to the 815 million people chronically suffering from hunger, the world is currently facing more than 30 severe food emergencies that are affecting more than 50 million people. I should mention that, unfortunately, a rising share of these emergencies are man-made and therefore avoidable. Those few number show clearly that the task in front of us is daunting and that we need to mobilise our steadfast resolve."

He told the meeting: "Recent events have dramatically reminded us of the need to deal with hunger. The injustice of 800 million people going to bed hungry every night while, in other parts of the world food is abundant, and sometimes wasted, cannot be overlooked. Such a situation fuels the sense of frustration and engrosses the ranks of those who believe that nequities cannot be eliminated with peaceful means."

The reasons for fighting to reduce hunger were both moral and practical, Dr. Diouf said: "We know that by feeding people we are protecting a fundamental human right: the right to food,"

He continued: "Let me emphasise that for FAO, fighting hunger goes beyond being a moral imperative. We believe that assisting hungry people to feed themselves is also a catalyst for the overall development effort. Only well-nourished people are productive workers, who can make the most of their labour force to contribute to growth and development. Only well-fed children are attentive students who can follow their lessons and become successful graduates; and only well-nourished people are resistant to, and recover faster from illnesses."

He noted that progress towards the target set by the World Food Summit in 1996 of reducing the numbers of the world's hungry by half by 2015 was much too slow. "If the present trends continue, it will take 60 years to achieve the WFS target to bring down the number of undernourished to about 400 million," he said.

The two main factors contributing to this situation were a lack of political will at both national and international level, combined with insufficient mobilisation of resources. "While the total annual gross investment needs are estimated by FAO at US$180 billion, current investment rates in primary agriculture are 12 percent lower on average for all developing regions, and 38 percent lower for sub-Saharan Africa." Dr. Diouf said.

He noted that Official Development Assistance, and particularly the share of agriculture in it, continues to decline. A similar trend was evident in the portfolios of the multilateral financing institutions.

On the question of international trading arrangements, the FAO Director-General said: "If food-insecure countries are to benefit fully from trade, they need a level playing field for agriculture."

In particular, they needed significant reductions in the subsidies going to farmers in rich countries. In 1999, the OECD countries spent US$356 billion in support to Agriculture, more than the combined GDP of all the developing countries of sub-Saharan Africa, he noted.

"To put things in perspective, while each OECD farmer received US$11,000 of support, an agricultural farm work in a developing country received a mere US$4.30 of ODA that year. Poor farmers in poor countries cannot compete with the treasuries of the world's richest countries. Subsidies by some undermine the incentives to invest for others." Dr. Diouf said.

He urged the parliamentarians to work to provide better access for poor countries to their markets and to develop international trade rules that gave developing countries the flexibility they needed to pursue their rural development and food security goals.

"Your governments and Parliaments share the responsibility for ensuring that the efforts of food-insecure countries will be supported and not hampered," Dr. Diouf said. Among actions they could take would be to "advocate the adoption of national targets for halving the number of hungry persons in each and every country," and supporting a reversal of the declining trend of ODA for agriculture.

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For more information please contact the FAO Media Relations office, tel: 39 06 5705 3625 or visit FAO website:  http://www.fao.org.


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