PR 96/21 - FAO DIRECTOR GENERAL WARNS CITY SUMMIT


PR 96/21

LOW STOCKS AND RECORD HIGH PRICES FOR CEREALS JEOPARDIZE WORLD FOOD SECURITY, FAO DIRECTOR-GENERAL WARNS CITY SUMMIT

ISTANBUL, Turkey, 7 June -- Low stocks and high prices have forced the world¦s poorest countries to pay US$16.6 billion, an additional US$3.4 billion for cereal imports, during the 1995-96 season, seriously jeopardizing progress toward the goal of universal food security, the head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned Friday.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf issued the warning in a statement presented on his behalf by Deputy Director-General H. W. Hjort to the UN Conference on Human Settlements, Habitat II.

Diouf reported that global cereal stocks, the world's major source of calories, are below the level considered sufficient to ensure food security. As a percentage of global utilization, stocks are now as low as they were during the world food crisis of 1974, he said, and prices have risen by some 90 percent within the 1995-96 season to reach a record high on international markets.

"The combination of higher prices and less food on concessional terms has increased the cost of cereal imports to the Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries over the past year by US$3.4 billion, and at US$16.6 billion for the 1995-96 season now ending, outlays for cereal imports have risen by 75 percent over the past two seasons," Diouf said.

"In these circumstances," he said, "it is extremely difficult to make progress towards the goal of universal food security, or the goal of shelter for all."

Diouf said that Habitat II and the World Food Summit, to be held 13-17 November at FAO Headquarters in Rome, have the same overriding goal: "to improve standards of living."

"While the primary concern here is over adequate shelter for all, our primary concern is over adequate supplies of food for all," the FAO Director- General said. "It is the poor among us, no matter where they live, that command our attention as without special assistance they will have inadequate access to food or shelter."

Diouf said FAO estimates that more than 800 million people in developing countries are chronically undernourished. He said FAO expects "slow and uneven progress in the availability of global food suppies" over the coming decades, but he warned that some 600-700 million people will still suffer from chronic undernourishment in the year 2010 unless "extraordinary measures" are taken.

"These prospects cannot be allowed to become reality, and they need not become reality," Diouf said. "Many countries, irrespective of development status, have demonstrated that they can make sustained progress in improving nutritional status. The key task is for those who have not been able to do so to find the set of appropriate and realistic policies and actions that will ensure sustained progress towards universal food security."

This task is being pursued in the preparations for the World Food Summit, Diouf said.