The world has changed in remarkable ways since, as the newly elected Director-General of FAO, I first prepared the foreword to The State of Food and Agriculture 1975. On that occasion, and for each of the 17 issues that were to follow, we focused on the current outlook, pointing out important improvements and highlighting the many alarming aspects of the world's situation - food insecurity, poverty and environmental degradation, to name a few. In this foreword, I wish to break with that tradition and share some reflections and thoughts about the past.
As an international civil servant who has served FAO for well over 30 years, I recall the heady and optimistic days of the early 1960s when colonial empires were dissolving and new nations were springing to life in every part of the world. Humankind seemed then to be on the verge of a technological and scientific breakthrough, with formidable progress being achieved in the fields of space exploration, data processing, telecommunications and - most important for agriculture - the green revolution which was under way in Asia.
It was a time when the Cold War was also at its height, but great faith was being put on multilateral action to promote development and economic growth and to maintain peace. I decided to join FAO not only because the United Nations system was being called on as the major conduit of high-quality technical and material assistance to developing countries, but mainly because FAO was the first expression of that postwar idealism that was soon to be embodied in the UN Charter as a global response to the cry for social justice for the underprivileged, the poor and the hungry.
During my early years with FAO - in fact, throughout the 1960s -economic growth and improved living standards in the developing countries were the rule, not the exception. Primary product prices were relatively stable, official development assistance was increasing in real terms over time and the presence of large stocks of cereals was taken for granted.
This relatively stable era for most developing countries came to an end with the oil price increases of 1972-73 and the fall in grain production in the main producing areas in 1972. Import needs rose, and grain surpluses disappeared almost overnight. A buying panic ensued, with cereal prices more than tripling and fertilizer prices more than quadrupling. Oil-importing developing countries turned to official and private financial markets to pay for imports and fill current account gaps. In 1975 when I was first elected Director-General, the world was in the midst of a major food crisis and a rapidly emerging debt crisis.
As the world recession unfolded in the early 1980s, the debt crisis matured. Economic recession and rising protectionism sharply reduced import demand. The terms of trade collapsed as oil and oil-based energy prices initially soared and prices of other commodities fell. The eagerness of the commercial banks to grant loans turned to an eagerness for repayment, and interest rates increased sharply, resulting in burgeoning debt-service payments. Developing countries faced a profoundly different world economic environment where repaying loans dominated both discussions and decisions on how economic adjustment should proceed during the 1980s.
After three postwar decades that involved grappling with economic expansion, the international development agencies, policy-makers and theoreticians had become accustomed to taking growth for granted and to debating how it could be optimized in terms of its rate and distribution. It was not expected that most developing countries would be implementing austerity programmes amid severe policy constraints caused by debt-service burdens, fiscal imbalances and balance-of-payments problems, to say nothing of civil strife.
Thus, the 1980s introduced a grimmer period of declining per caput incomes in most developing countries. Development assistance gradually shifted away from projects and the direct creation of infrastructure, and moved instead towards conditional lending that required changes in economic policy and management as well as institutional reforms. During the 1980s, these "stabilization" and "structural adjustment" programmes became commonplace. Ironically, while the developing countries came under heavy external pressure to adopt adjustment policies (devaluation, fiscal and monetary restraint, market and trade liberalization), most of the OECD countries became increasingly protectionist and pursued unsustainable financial policies.
For many developing countries, the 1980s was certainly a period of frustration. For others, including the most populous ones, the decade saw periods of remarkable progress. But all of us entered the 1990s with a renewed awareness that development should first and foremost emphasize its human dimensions. This renewed emphasis has had a number of important implications. First, recognition dawned of the need to "adjust adjustment" in such a way as to attenuate its recessive effects and to alleviate acute disparities and social hardship. Second, the importance of people's knowledge, skills and aptitudes, together with the strengthening of appropriate institutions and mechanisms that would enable them to participate in the development process, was recognized. Third, the need to enhance food security and nutrition policies and programmes became apparent, with the recognition that food access often has more to do with incomes than with supply. Finally, we began to focus collectively on improving the sustainability of agriculture and rural development.
Although we are no longer haunted by the imminent risk of nuclear conflagration, sadly, many regions of the world are as turbulent today as they were in 1975. Furthermore, many industrial countries are grappling with crucial political choices regarding national and regional issues. West European countries are pursuing efforts aimed at closer integration despite mounting and unforeseen political and economic difficulties. Market-oriented transformations are continuing in Eastern Europe and the former USSR in the context of grave economic and social disruptions, plummeting agricultural and industrial production; and ethnic and political tensions which, in former Yugoslavia, SFR, have degenerated into a devastating armed conflict.
These events have taken place in an overall climate of economic malaise. The much-awaited and repeatedly predicted revival of economic growth in the industrial countries has remained elusive. Instead, rising unemployment, unstable financial and foreign exchange markets and severe budgetary difficulties in several industrial countries have continued to exert their destabilizing influence worldwide.
Yet, there are many reasons to be optimistic when drawing lessons from past experiences. Despite the recent and dramatic changes in the political and economic environment, the rivalries among power blocs and the rhetorical exchanges of accusations across ideological divides have ceased and have been replaced by a renewed confidence in the ability of the UN system to find mutually agreed solutions to global problems.
On the whole, developing countries have much to be proud of with respect to their substantial progress in life expectancy, child mortality and educational attainment. Likewise, FAO can take pride in its efforts to help the developing countries improve their agricultural sectors and enhance rural welfare. Even though the world has about 1.5 billion more inhabitants than when I took office, the global community has proved its ability to provide sufficient food and to avert food crises brought about by natural disasters. We have achieved substantial increases in per caput food supplies worldwide and many of today's developing countries now cover a significant proportion of their populations' food needs.
Today we are producing more cereals on less land than we did in 1975 -rice and wheat yields have increased by nearly 50 percent, maize yields by more than 35 percent and pulses by 30 percent. Similar gains have been made in livestock, forestry and fisheries. Aquaculture, for instance, was only an infant industry 20 years ago but, today, it provides food, jobs and income for millions.
These significant achievements have meant that world food production has outpaced population growth and that per caput calorie consumption is approximately 10 percent above what it was in the mid-1970s.
Our changing world is always producing surprises, both good and bad. And while we may not be entirely able to determine the course of events, it remains my conviction that we can at least have a hand in influencing it. Indeed, in some instances, our action can make the difference between survival and death, welfare and destitution and progress and frustration for millions of people. This is true for Africa, as it is for other developing country regions around the world.
Perhaps the most critical issues today are the paucity of financial resources to fuel the development process and the consequent need to generate the necessary political commitment for increasing and channelling these resources so as to improve the well-being of the poor relative to the rich. The widely documented gap between the poor and the rich continues to grow in almost every nation of the world - a situation that can only lead to even greater tensions and turmoil.
Not long ago it was hoped that a substantial share of the so-called peace dividend would be allocated for development. Instead, it has been absorbed by peacemaking, peace-keeping, emergency relief, unification, domestic programmes, reductions in fiscal imbalances on national accounts, and other uses. The key to relief from these demands, and the major ingredient for avoiding further social disintegration and violence, is an acceleration in the development process and, in the poorer countries of the world, sustainable agriculture and rural development.
It is my hope that the international community will recognize that equitable and sustainable development is the only way to avoid massive outlays for peacemaking, peace-keeping and relief, and that it will consequently rise to the challenge presented by the current situation.