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Press Release 01/94


Rome, 3 December 2001 - Hunger, malnutrition and poverty breed disabilities. Between 250,000 and 500,000 children go blind every year from Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD). There are over 16 million mentally handicapped and nearly 49.5 million people with lesser degrees of brain damage due to Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD); more than half of all pregnant women in the world are anaemic, of whom 90% live in developing countries.

But disability is also cause of poverty and hunger, especially in rural areas, where people are far from services and have very limited economic opportunities. "Disabled people are marginalised, they are not considered economically active and this leads them very often into the hunger trap," explains Lawrence Jacobson, FAO Focal Point for Disability Matters.

Reducing the current figure of 600 million people with disabilities worldwide can be achieved by boosting food production, improving nutrition and integrating disabled people into sustainable rural development programmes. Two pilot projects implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Thailand and Cambodia demonstrate how this can be done.

Thailand has an estimated 1.1 million disabled people, representing around 1.8% of the population. Most of them live in the Northeast, the poorest part of the country. To enhance the skills of disabled farmers, and make them successful entrepreneurs with income-generating activities, the FAO Regional Office in Bangkok developed an innovative training programme based on mushroom cultivation. Mushrooms are part of the daily diet of Thai people and thus offer good market opportunities, and their cultivation can be started at a very low cost while generating income within a short time.

"Mushroom cultivation has restored their self confidence," explains Mr. Jacobson. "These people have acquired the skills and means to lead better and more productive lives. They can stand on their own and, most important, they can teach other people within their community. This acquired ability to lead and to teach other people is an important aspect of the success of this project."

In Cambodia, the war and landmines have left more than 2% of the population handicapped and marginalized. The per-capita rate of disability is one of the highest in the world. A joint programme between Handicapped International and the FAO Integrated Pest Management Programme is giving them additional skills to integrate into their communities, to improve incomes, to manage their crops better and to regain their self-esteem.

"The project focuses not just on treating marginalised or disabled farmers as special," explains Robert Nugent, FAO Integrated Pest Management Country Officer. "There is no point developing special programmes just for disabled farmers. You have to look at the farming community as a whole and how networks of farmers can come together as trainers, as organisers, as scientists. This model is replicable anywhere where there is a need to place farmers at the centre of the learning rather than production and technical delivery."

Lawrence Jacobson comments: "Fighting hunger in the world means fighting to feed all hungry people. The rural disabled in developing countries are a particularly vulnerable group who are all too often invisible. It is essential that development programmes take account of their special needs."

Betacam SP Footage on the mentioned FAO projects is available.


For contact, please call Nuria Felipe Soria, FAO Information Officer,
email: tel: 39 06 5705 5899, or
FAO Media Relations Office, tel: 39 06 5705 3625
For further information please visit the FAO home page:


1. Mr. Lawrence Jacobson, a physically disabled himself, is the only technical expert in FAO responsible for Disability Matters. The Rural Disabled deserve much more attention, he says.

Duration: 59sec
In Realaudio (Instant play, 66 Kb)
InMp3 (Broadcast quality,466 Kb to be downloaded)

2. Mr. John Rouse is an FAO Senior Officer responsible for Cooperatives and Rural Organizations. He claims that, because the Disabled people also are a sector of the rural population, their development problems should be addressed properly.

Duration: 1min56sec
In Realaudio (Instant play, 129 Kb)
InMp3 (Broadcast quality,1,340 Kb to be downloaded)

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