PR 96/3


ROME, February 1 -- FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf announced today that a World Food Summit would be held at FAO Headquarters in Rome from 13 to 17 November 1996. The Summit, bringing together Heads of State and Government, will seek commitment to a policy statement and a plan of action to eradicate hunger. The announcement came in the face of growing international concern about declining world cereal production, stocks and food aid supplies, as well as rising cereal prices.

The World Food Summit is expected to be the biggest ever get-together of Heads of State and Government in Italy. Italian authorities have pledged their full support and assistance to it while scores of Heads of State or Government have expressed their support for this first Summit on food.

"World food production will have to increase by more than 75 percent over the next 30 years to keep pace with population growth. We must prepare now to feed about 9 billion people who will inhabit the world by 2030; that is up from 5.8 billion people today," Dr. Diouf said in a statement released during a news conference.

He said the Summit will marshall at the highest political level a global consensus and commitment needed to implement policies, programmes and strategies that will lead to the virtual eradication of hunger worldwide.

"Food for All," is the slogan of the Summit.

"It is unacceptable that hunger and malnutrition continue to diminish the human potential of nearly 20 percent of the people on earth in an age when we explore the planets and beyond," Dr. Diouf said, adding that the very survival of humanity depends on world food security.

According to FAO, some 800 million people, 200 million of them children, are chronically undernourished in the developing world alone, and millions more suffer debilitating diseases related to micronutrient deficiencies and to contaminated food and water. Every day, one out of five people in the developing world cannot get enough food to meet their daily needs; in sub-Saharan Africa, two out of five people do not have adequate food.

While food aid eases the plight of many of the world's hungry people, particularly in emergencies, FAO's Director-General said he does not see it as the solution, proposing instead increased production for increased self-reliance in the very areas where food is needed most. In addition, the amount of food aid available has been in sharp decline over the past three years, exacerbating the problem.

Dr. Diouf said, "Unless the international community and national governments address the underlying causes of undernutrition, namely poverty, 15 years from now there still will be around 750 million hungry and undernourished people in the world. In Africa, the number of chronically undernourished people is projected to swell by about 50 percent to more than 300 million people by 2010. This the world can simply not allow, or afford."

FAO's Director-General said he initiated the World Food Summit because he is convinced that practical solutions and action are possible and needed at local, national and international levels to dramatically alter the future course of hunger in the world and that the Summit could be a milestone in pursuit of the most fundamental of human rights for all people at all times: the right of access to sufficient food.

"We know this is possible," said Dr. Diouf. "Many countries, including some of the poorest, have successfully strengthened their food security by improving food availability, stabilising supplies and improving access to food. These countries share common characteristics, some of which can be applied elsewhere, like adequate water control,sustained support for the agricultural sector, access to export and import markets and progressive reforms in institutional structure, social services and economic policies."

Summit participants are expected to adopt a set of commitments aimed at ending hunger and promoting universal food security. Those commitments are expected to cover factors such as:

  • political, macroeconomic and trade conditions conducive to food security;
  • the contribution of policies and institutions to improving access to food for all;
  • ways of meeting transitory and emergency food requirements while encouraging recovery, development and the capacity to satisfy future needs;
  • the promotion of sustainable agriculture and development to ensure adequate and stable food supplies at the household, national and global levels;
  • the role of investment in sustainable agriculture, forestry and fisheries, the importance of research, extension, infrastructure and institutions; and
  • international cooperation and assistance with respect to food and agriculture.

The Summit is not a pledging conference, nor is it aiming to create new financial mechanisms, institutions or bureaucracies, according to Dr. Diouf.

The November Summit will be the first opportunity since the 1974 World Food Conference for governments to concentrate their attention on food security. That conference, also held in Rome, declared that "every man, woman and child has the inalienable right to be free from hunger and malnutrition in order to develop their physical and mental faculties." But, the Conference goal of eradicating hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition within a decade was never reached.

Dr. Diouf first proposed holding a low-cost high-impact World Food Summit in 1994, following regional consultations with member governments. To keep costs down, the preparatory work for the Summit is being conducted through regularly scheduled sessions of FAO, including five Regional Conferences and other meetings, among them a Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources in Leipzig, Germany, this summer.

Pre-Summit meetings have also included Ministerial Meetings of Forestry and Fisheries and a gathering of Non-governmental Organizations and Agriculture Ministers in Quebec during ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of FAO's founding. Further reductions in cost will be achieved by holding the Summit at FAO Headquarters, using existing conference facilities and services. All participants will be encouraged not to hold expensive receptions or formal dinners, donating funds which would have been used for hospitality to the financing of FAO's "Special Programme for Food Production in Support of Low-income Food-deficit Countries.

FAO's governing Conference, at its 20 - 31 October 1995 session, unanimously decided to convene the World Food Summit and approved preparations for the Summit made by FAO's Director-General. This decision was endorsed by the 50th session of the UN General Assembly.

In addition to a draft policy statement and plan of action, documents to be submitted to the Summit include a series of technical papers that highlight issues and options. They were prepared with FAO partners such as the World Bank, regional development banks, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Programme and other United Nations specialized agencies. The papers will cover food production and population growth, ethics, environmental impact, nutrition, international trade and lessons learned from the Green Revolution on the way toward "a New Green Revolution."

FAO is also in close contact with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector in preparations for the Summit. NGOs are expected to be involved in special activities in connection with the Summit.

The World Food Summit had its formal media launch during the 21st Session of FAO's Committee on World Food Security, which in addition to considering draft documentation for the Summit, assessed the global food security situation and outlook. For 1995, global production of staple foods, comprising the major cereals, roots and tubers, was expected to decline by around 3 percent from last year.

The Committee was informed that, "World cereal production in 1995 was estimated at 1891 million tons, some 3 percent or 58 million tons below the 1994 volume and well below trend for the third consecutive year." Cereal export prices have risen by between 30 and 50 percent - consequently in 1995/96 low-income food-deficit countries are forecast to pay and additional $3 billion.