PR 96/45


ROME, 28 October -- The growth of agricultural production throughout the world is slowing because supplies are sufficient for consumers with the means to purchase food while the undernourished in developing countries need more food but cannot afford to buy it, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

The growth rate of world agricultural production was 3 percent a year in the 1960s, 2.3 percent in the 1970s, 2 percent in 1980-92, is now 1.8 percent and will continue to drop in the period to the year 2010, FAO reported.

The figures were contained in Food, Agriculture and Food Security: Developments Since the World Food Conference and Prospects, one of a series of 14 technical background documents prepared for the World Food Summit to be held at FAO headquarters 13-17 November.

Leaders from close to 200 countries expected to attend the Summit will renew their commitment to the goal of universal food security and agree on a Plan of Action that will involve civil society and the private sector along with international and non-governmental organizations in a concerted effort to end hunger and malnutrition throughout the world.

The technical document reviews world food and agriculture and food security situation from the early 1960s to the present, with particular reference to the period since the World Food Conference of 1974, and considers possible developments to the year 2010.

Attributing the slowing growth rate of agricultural production to the projected slowdown in effective demand for more food, the FAO report said this situation has positive as well as negative aspects.

The slowdown is not a negative outcome per se to the extent that it reflects some positive developments in the world demographic and development scenes, the report stated. It cited the decline in the growth rate of world population and the fact that more and more countries have been raising their per caput food consumption to levels beyond which there is limited scope for further increases.

Most developed countries (which account for some 50 percent of world consumption of agricultural products) are in this class and they are being gradually joined by some developing countries, FAO said. To put it in plain language, people who have money to buy more food don't need to do so, though they will probably continue to increase their expenditure on food to pay for the ever-increasing margins of marketing, processing, packaging and services that go with them. The report said the negative aspect of the slowdown is that it is happening while a significant part of the world population remains undernourished because of inadequate access to food.

In short, according to the report, the slowdown in world agricultural growth is also due to the fact that people who would consume more do not have sufficient incomes to demand more food and cause it to be produced.

Unless the world acts now to promote poverty-reducing growth and agricultural development and to put agriculture on to a more sustainable path, the paper concluded, many of the food security problems of today will persist and some will become worse.

Looking to the future, the report said that world output could expand at higher rates if effective demand were to grow faster but noted that the decline in the growth rate should have the beneficial effect of relieving pressure on natural resources and the environment.

FAO said that under the present circumstances land in crop production in the developing countries, excluding China, may expand from the 760 million hectares in 1988-1990 to 850 million ha in 2010 -- an increase of 90 million ha or about 5 percent of the 1.8 billion ha of the world's still uncultivated land with rainfed crop potential.

Most of the increase would be in Saharan Africa south of the Sahara and Latin America, some in East Asia and very little in South Asia, the Near East and North Africa.

But, the report found, the harvested area could actually increase by 124 million hectares through more intensive cropping and shorter fallow periods, and higher yields are expected. At the same time, it noted that the growth rate of the world population is declining.

All these possible developments point to the need for agricultural production to grow at declining rates, and therefore, the buildup of pressures from this origin on resources and the environment will be becoming less intense, FAO forecast.

At the same time, it said, if development takes hold in the low- income countries, environmental conservation will be edging higher in the priorities of people while the means for investing in it will also be less scarce.

FAO said, however, this outcome is far from certain as long as development failures continue to plague many countries.