FROM THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON NUTRITION TO THE WORLD FOOD SUMMIT

Currently, food supplies are sufficient to feed the world's 5.8 billion people. Population growth, changing dietary patterns and environmental degradation threaten the world's food security and many already experience food insecurity. In developing countries more than 800 million people suffer from chronic malnutrition, primarily because they are poor and lack access to food.

From 13-17 November, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will convene the World Food Summit in Rome. Heads of State, Prime Ministers and other high level officials representing nearly 200 countries will deliberate about agriculture, trade and nutrition and commit their countries to implement policies to achieve sustainable food security for all.

The proposed Rome Declaration on World Food Security reaffirms the right of all people to be free from hunger and to have access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food at all times. Alleviating poverty, improving nutritional status, raising food quality and ensuring the safety of foods are crucial to achieving food security.

MONITORING FOOD SITUATIONS

An objective of the Summit is to ensure that food supplies are appropriate and adequate to meet the energy and nutrient needs of a country's population. Monitoring systems are needed to indicate the nature, extent, magnitude and severity of different types of nutritional problems and how they change over time. This information can be used to develop programmes and activities to enable vulnerable individuals to meet their food and nutrition needs.

Food information and early warning systems have been given priority at FAO. Technical assistance for establishing and implementing nutrition monitoring and surveillance systems at national and regional levels has been provided by the Food and Nutrition Division.

PEOPLE'S PARTICIPATION AND GENDER EQUALITY

During the ICN, people's participation was seen as essential for raising the productive capacity and incomes of poor communities. The Summit will promote the full participation and empowerment of people, especially women in development. The ICN Plan of Action drew attention to the special needs of females because of their role in reproduction and caretaking as well as their economic activities. The Summit will emphasize the importance of equal gender opportunities for education and training in food production, processing and marketing.

FAO's community nutrition programmes combine women's interests and initiatives and participatory methods. A number of projects focus on the local production and consumption of foods rich in Vitamin A. To reduce micronutrient deficiencies, food-based solutions such as community and home gardening have been emphasized by FAO.

EXPERT CONSULTATIONS ON NUTRITION

To provide advice to countries on human nutrition needs, FAO convenes, jointly with WHO, expert groups to review scientific evidence and make recommendations on nutrient requirements. Accurate estimates of energy and nutrient requirements can be used to assess the adequacy of food supplies, provide references for evaluating nutrition situations, and guide action for dietary and nutritional improvements. FAO also sponsors conferences on current nutrition topics such as the recent First World Congress on Calcium and Vitamin D in Human Life.

NUTRITION EDUCATION

Nutritional well-being is a pre-condition for development. The Summit will stress the need for investment in human resource development such as nutrition, sanitation and education for the public. Technologies and training programmes on nutrition, environmental protection, food supply and health will be advocated.

Lack of education and misinformation about food are primary causes of poor nutrition. FAO supports activities to enable consumers to make informed decisions about their diets, and to ensure that food choices and household food preparation and feeding practices will meet nutritional needs. FAO has held expert consultations on nutrition education for the public and developed a nutrition education package, "Get the Best from Your Food" for use in different countries. The Summit calls for food systems and products which respond to the needs of consumers for properly balanced diets.

FOOD QUALITY AND SAFETY

The ICN stressed the need for improved food quality and safety programmes. At the Summit, food quality and safety will be considered in the context of improved nutrition, better agricultural practices and promoting trade. There will be a call for the development and promotion of improved food processing, preservation and storage technologies to reduce post-harvest food losses.

The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives provides scientifically based evaluations of risk associated with use of chemical additives, veterinary drug residues, environmental contamination and naturally occurring toxicants in food. FAO's programmes of strengthening national food control systems focus on prevention and control of post harvest losses due to environmental, industrial and biological contaminants; transfer of technology in processing and distribution systems to enhance food safety; and training of personnel on improved food storage and handling methods for increased economic development. FAO provides information on new and emerging technologies (for instance, biotechnology) to assure a safe and nutritious food supply and enhance economic and social development, while at the same time protecting the environment.

FACILITATING TRADE

In existence since 1962 the purpose of the Codex Alimentarius Commission is to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in food trade. The Commission has produced a wide range of recommended Codex international standards, codes of practice and limits on pesticide residues, food additives, veterinary drug residues and natural contaminants in foods. FAO's Food and Nutrition Division hosts the Joint FAO/WHO Secretariat to the 154 member country Codex Alimentarius Commission. The Final Act of the Uruguay Round Multilateral Trade Negotiations was signed in Marrakesh in April 1994. The World Trade Organization was formed in 1995. As these trade agreements are implemented, countries will rely on science-based Codex Alimentarius standards and recommendations as reference points for setting national standards and resolving disputes. Through the efforts of Codex, consumers gain confidence in foods from other countries as well as foods produced with new technologies and ingredients. The Summit will call for compliance with the trade agreements and governments will be asked to pursue a fair and market-oriented trade system.

Conforming to trade agreements and food standards is a challenge for all countries. Less developed countries face difficulties in meeting these requirements and FAO assists these countries by providing technical advice and training on quality assurance systems, risk analysis, import/export inspection and certification systems to enable exporters to comply with the trade agreements. Exporters which meet international food standards may benefit from new opportunities in the global market.

NUTRITION AND DEVELOPMENT

At the ICN, each country made a social, economic and political commitment to achieving nutritional well-being. The ICN advocated the incorporation of explicit nutrition objectives, concerns and considerations in development policies and programmes dealing with agriculture, fisheries and forestry. Many countries have adopted policies to ensure that development efforts have beneficial effects on nutrition and reduce poverty.

The ICN Plan of Action recognised that lack of human and financial resources, institutional capacity and policy commitment in many countries inhibits progress in solving nutrition problems. FAO has advised more than 100 governments in formulating their national plans of action on nutrition and strengthening their capabilities to implement the plans. These have taken a multisectoral approach which has stimulated the development of mechanisms for co-operation among various agencies and organizations in the public and private sectors.

It is expected that the goals established at the Summit will strengthen commitment to and complement the plans set by governments after the ICN. Both the ICN World Declaration and Plan of Action on Nutrition and the Rome Declaration on World Food Security give governments the primary responsibility of achieving food security and improving nutrition. However, they must do this by encouraging others in the public and private sectors to devote resources towards the goal of food for all. The events of the next week will guide FAO and the other UN agencies in ways to assist countries in achieving food security. If all parties at local, national, regional and international levels make determined and sustained efforts, the overall goal of food for all, at all times, can be achieved.