PR 96/14 - WORLDWATCH INSTITUTE


Rome, May 3 -- In its news release of Wednesday, May 1, a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C., Worldwatch Institute, indicates that FAO and the World Bank are "misleading political leaders" by " overestimating food production" and that "this in turn may be leading to costly underinvestment in agriculture ...."

This is a gross distortion of FAO's position.

FAO's study of the prospects for food and agriculture, presented in "World Agriculture: Towards 2010", foresees continued improvements in world per caput food supplies to the year 2010. But these gains will not suffice to guarantee food security for all, and progress is likely to be slow and uneven. Unless extraordinary action is taken now, the developing countries are unlikely to be able to significantly reduce the number of chronically undernourished persons from the over 800 million today. The necessity to develop local food production in the low-income countries with high dependence on agriculture for employment and income is the one factor that dominates all others in determining progress or failure in improving food security.

FAO has always said and continues to say that there is:

  • an unacceptable imbalance in food production growth between the different regions of the world
  • an unjust situation in the access to food for developing countries and for the poor in all countries. FAO has also identified two main causes of this situation:
  • the downward trend of investment in agriculture from 1988 to 1993 translated both in the evolution of its share of Official Development Finance (ODF) (19% - 10%) and in its absolute value ($US 16 billion - 10 billion), resulting in the lack of adequate infrastructure (in particular sustainable water control), but also in the low level of research and transfer of available technology as well as in the insufficient use of inputs in developing countries
  • the low rate of economic growth of many developing countries and the impact of the debt burden on their capacity to invest and express effective demand on the world market.

In view of this situation and prospects, as soon as he took up office in January 1994, the Director-General proposed the convening of a World Food Summit, for the first time in history at the level of Heads of State and Government, to discuss the world situation and prospects with the view to changing these unacceptable trends through the adoption of a policy and plan of action to deal with its national, regional and world dimensions.

After two years of struggle against those opposing any more summits on world problems and those considering that the situation of food stocks over the past 20 years did not justify a meeting at that level, the Director-General obtained unanimous approval of his initiative by the FAO Conference in October 1995 and by the UN General Assembly in December 1995, for the meeting to be held in Rome from 13-17 November 1996.

During the 50th Anniversary celebration in Quebec, FAO presented Ministers of Agriculture with a document on investment prepared in consultation with the World Bank and other development financing institutions indicating the needs for investment additional to current levels of US$31 billion annually to meet the needs of agricultural development in the developing countries alone.

During his visits to member countries and on the occasion of several interviews, the FAO Director-General has called the attention of world leaders and public opinion to the danger of the situation, a precursor of which is the recent sharp increase in the prices of and the decline of stocks of cereals on the world market.

At the FAO Regional Conferences for the Near East in Rabat (March 1996), for Africa in Ouagadougou (April 1996) and for Europe in Israel (April 1996), all attended by governments and NGOs, he again called attention to the risk of waiting for crises instead of taking the necessary measures forthwith. On these three occasions, in his statement he even used the words "we are all living today in a state of impending disaster...."