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FAO REGIONAL CONFERENCE FOR THE NEAR EAST OPENS SATURDAY IN TEHRAN; AGRICULTURE MINISTERS AND EXPERTS WILL PAVE THE WAY FOR WORLD FOOD SUMMIT:five years later SCHEDULED FOR 10-13 JUNE 2002 IN ROME

FAO Press Release 02/23


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For further information please contact FAO information Officer, Michael Hage (cell phone: outside Teheran: 009821 9112495495, in Teheran: 09112495495)

FAO Regional Conferences 2002

Tehran/Rome, 7 March 2002.? The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) opens its 26th Regional Conference for the Near East next Saturday at Azadi Grand Hotel in Tehran. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries ministers and experts from 29 countries will assess the current food and agriculture situation in the Near East Region, review progress achieved since the 1996 World Food Summit and address the themes of the World Food Summit: five years later (WFS:fyl) scheduled in Rome, Italy from 10 to 13 June 2002.

The WFS:fyl was called to mobilize the political will and the financial resources to fight hunger. World leaders will be asked to outline the measures needed to achieve the goal of the first World Food Summit and suggest how to accelerate the process. At the World Food Summit in 1996, representatives of 185 nations and the European Community pledged to work towards eradicating hunger. As an essential first step, they set a target of reducing the number of hungry people by half by 2015.

In Tehran, for five days, agriculture experts and ministers from the Middle East and North-Africa will also discuss long-term plans for drought mitigation and management, opportunities for sustainable development and activities related to the observance of the International Year of Mountains (www.mountains2002.org).

Water scarcity is the most serious challenge to agriculture throughout the Near East; while the Region covers 14 percent of the world's surface, its water resources are only about 2 percent of the total internal renewable water resources of the world, according to FAO. Moreover, some 70 percent of the agricultural areas in the Region are arid or semi-arid and only 20 percent of the total land is cultivable.

Participants will also examine the problem of low forest cover and other issues such as trade liberalization policies, intra-regional trade, livestock diseases and biodiversity for agriculture, forestry and fisheries. In the Near East region, forests are disappearing faster than in most parts of the world. This is mainly due to the inability and failure of most national forest and land use policies to effectively address competing demands on forests and tree resources. The total forest area of Near East countries accounts for 5.8 percent of the total land area, according to FAO.

In 1999, the Islamic Republic of Iran, with FAO's technical assistance, launched the Tehran Process, an initiative to help developing countries reverse the trend regarding their forest cover. More than 70 developing countries are affected by low forest cover, involving 300 to 400 million people, FAO experts say.

With regard to agricultural trade, a paper prepared by FAO for the Tehran Conference underlines the "high dependency" of the Region on food imports. For the Near East region as a whole, imports of cereals, as a proportion of the total annual consumption, expanded from 15 percent in 1970-75 to 33 percent in 1997-99. Many countries still import more than 50 percent of their requirements of wheat and wheat flour. Intra-regional agricultural trade has generally remained low and stagnant, according to the report, which recommends further technical support aimed at establishing a regional network for agricultural policies.

Another paper prepared for the Conference underlines that the Near East Region is unique from the standpoint of plant genetic resources. "The diversity present in the Region is a source of important traits to improve cultivated plants. However, most of this diversity, some 10 percent of the flora, is threatened by genetic erosion," warns the paper.


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