PR 96/43 - PRESIDENT OF COTE D'IVOIRE APPEALS FOR FUNDS


PR 96/43

SOME 140 NATIONS OBSERVE WORLD FOOD DAY; FAO DIRECTOR-GENERAL URGES LEADERS TO "RESTORE AGRICULTURE TO ITS RIGHTFUL PRIORITY"; PRESIDENT OF C¦TE D'IVOIRE APPEALS FOR FUNDS FOR WATER MANAGEMENT IN AFRICA

Rome, October 16 -- About 140 nations around the world observed World Food Day today with seminars, conferences, contests and media campaigns dedicated to the theme of "Fighting Hunger and Malnutrition." World Food Day, which marks the anniversary of the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization 51 years ago, served this year to pave the way for next month's historic World Food Summit at FAO headquarters.

Opening a ceremony in the Plenary Hall where Heads of State and Government will meet November 13-17, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf called it a "logic-defying paradox" that while the world produces enough food for everyone, "more than 800 million people have no guarantee of an adequate diet."

"We have a dual challenge ahead," Dr. Diouf said., "that of producing enough food and that of ensuring that each individual has access to this food."

The FAO Director-General urged policymakers and senior administrators to "restore agriculture to its rightful priority status."

"Their first task is to create a social, economic and policy framework that will boost food production and encourage sustainable farming practices," Dr. Diouf said. "This is the aspiration of the World Food Summit that will shortly open its doors in Rome and that brings a ray of hope to this World Food Day."

President Henri Konan Bédié of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire delivered the keynote address at the FAO ceremonies. Other speakers included Italian Minister of the Environment Edo Ronchi and Monsignor Alois Wagner, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to FAO, who read a message from Pope John Paul II.

"The solution to the problem of hunger in the world," Bédié said, "consists of measures that guarantee to developing countries stable and durable income, including respect for international agreements on commodites, a drastic reduction of their external debt, the accelerated modernization of their production methods and above all, water control because without water control there is no hope of achieving food security."

The African leader appealed to the donor community to provide funds for a special water management programme to be carried out in Africa with FAO.

"For the African continent in particular," he said, "we know that agriculture is characterized by a low level of water management. Eight percent of arable land is being irrigated, representing 14 million hectares out of more than 1 billion hectares of agricultural land. This situation explains in great part the precariousness and the weakness of agricultural yields in Africa, an Africa that has available more than 4 000 billion cubic meters of renewable water."

In his message, the Pope described the right to nutrition as fundamental and one of the inalienable human rights.

But, the papal message said, "material aid, the modification of habits linked to affluent lifestyles and attention to preserving resources and the environment are not enough in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. Also needed is a "choice of life" which, by rediscovering a sense of sharing and by realizing the human dimension of the tragedy of hunger and malnutrition, will be able to overcome special interests, also in the area of international activity.

"This could be the right direction for efforts aimed at enabling every people and nation to achieve an adequate level of food security," according to the papal message.

In his address, Minister Ronchi stressed the need for sustainable development and underlined the danger of urbanization swallowing up arable land for homes, infrastructure and industrial and recreational areas. "To protect agricultural land it is necessary to discourage its use for other purposes," he said.

The United Nations will mark World Food Day with a ceremony at UN headquarters on October 25.

Other events around the world included essay and poster contests for students, tree-plantings, exhibits, lectures, seminars, conferences, awards for excellence in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, newspaper, radio, television and Internet presentations.

Representing the winners of the United Nations Women's Guild poster competition, Leanh Nguyen, 17, a student in Rome, told the FAO ceremony, ¦We wish to express our solidarity with all the victims of hunger and malnutrition, especially those of our own age."

The final World Food Day event will be a concert by artists from throughout the world televised live around the globe on October 27 with FAO providing free satellite hookups.