TWENTY-THIRD FAO REGIONAL CONFERENCE FOR EUROPE
NICOSIA, CYPRUS, 29-31 May 2002
STATEMENT BY THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL
Your Excellency, the President of the Republic of Cyprus,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to the Twenty-Third FAO Regional Conference for Europe which for the first time is being held on this sunny Mediterranean island - the birthplace of Aphrodite - goddess of beauty. This island, with a history of over eleven thousand years, is located at the crossroads of three continents - Europe, Asia and Africa - a meeting point of great civilisations - a factor which has influenced the course of the island's history throughout the centuries.
I should like to express, on behalf of all the delegations and the staff of FAO, my sincere gratitude to the Government and people of the Republic of Cyprus for hosting this Regional Conference. The warm welcome we have received, the splendid facilities provided, and the excellent arrangements made for this Conference bespeak of this country's noble heritage of cordiality and generosity.
I should like to thank in particular His Excellency President Glafkos Clerides for honouring us with his presence at this opening ceremony. This bears witness to the importance that the highest authorities of this nation attach to alleviating poverty in the European region, and throughout the world.
(State of food and agriculture in the world)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This Regional Conference is taking place in a global economic, social and political context that is undergoing rapid change.
The Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), held in Doha last November, has established the framework for more equitable terms of international trade of agricultural products. During the next years, the globalization and liberalization of trade for agricultural products, the movement of capital, and the transfer of technology should take place in such a way that both the developed and the developing countries will be able to enhance the living conditions of their people. For agriculture in particular, it is essential that the new negotiations under the WTO provide the developing countries with greater opportunities to participate in fairer international trade. FAO will continue to make available to its Member Nations the analyses and information needed to reinforce the technical skills of negotiators in agricultural trade.
The last two years have seen a relatively modest performance of the agricultural sector, the economic mainstay of the poorer regions that employs more than 70 percent of the economically active population in the least developed countries. The annual rate of growth of world agricultural production fell to 0.6 percent in 2001, the lowest level since 1993.
World cereal production fell in 2001 to 1 850 million tonnes, 1.2 percent down from the previous year. A number of factors have contributed to this reduction: the natural disasters and low prices of recent years, and government policies to reduce surplus supply.
The projections are that world utilization of cereals in 2001/02 should exceed output for the second consecutive year, amounting to 1 935 million tonnes, up 1.7 percent from the previous crop year.
Importantly, however, Australia, the European Union and North America have sizeable food surpluses for export (with a total value of US$36 000 million) and are probably in a position to significantly increase their food production. On the other hand, food production in the low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) is not enough to satisfy the needs of their populations, and these countries have neither the means nor the funds to offset the shortfall through imports.
Meanwhile, agricultural prices have continued to fall. Cereals have posted an accumulated price reduction of 43 percent. Prices of fats and oils have declined by 35 percent.
The world still has some 815 million undernourished people, including 777 million in the developing countries, 27 million in the countries in transition and 11 million in the industrialized countries. The improvement recorded in some countries and parts of the developing world, notably in East Asia, is thus neutralized by the worsening situation in other regions, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and the Caribbean.
The gap between output and needs in the food deficit regions will continue to widen unless there is an increase in rural investment to generate higher employment, income, productivity and production. Until there is an abatement in hunger and malnutrition, it will be difficult, indeed impossible, to achieve appreciable and sustainable results in other vital domains of the fight against poverty, such as health and education.
Food shortages caused by natural disasters have continued to affect many countries. As of late last year, there were 33 countries and 62 million people facing food emergencies.
During the last two years, in response to the crisis which unfolded in the Balkans and to natural calamities (prolonged drought in the Caucasian countries and floods in some of the Balkan countries), emergency assistance projects in the affected countries totalled some US$34 million. Emergency assistance in the Region has more than doubled compared to the previous biennium. However, data indicate that their relative frequency has changed over the last thirty years. Whilst in the 1970s and 1980s food emergencies were mainly the result of natural factors, in more recent years they have been originating from manmade disasters.
The role of FAO in such a context is more important than ever, primarily in assessing the food and agricultural situation, determining food aid needs and informing the international community, thanks to the Global Information and Early Warning System, which is working in particular with the World Food Programme. FAO’s expertise is also invaluable within the framework of consolidated appeals for humanitarian assistance and, especially, by providing direct assistance to farmers.
The long-term viability of intensive agriculture in the developed countries raises concerns and poses problems. The epidemics of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and foot-and-mouth disease, salmonella, and mutant drug-resistant E. coli infection have changed consumer perception of the consequences of unbridled efforts to intensify and maximize yields, and to cut costs.
Elsewhere, the genetic modification of food crops and animals has sparked fierce controversy. While GMOs are not necessary today to achieve the objectives of the 1996 World Food Summit, they offer great potential for feeding a world population expected to grow to 9 billion persons. Their development and application therefore need to be monitored scientifically and in an international framework. This will make it possible to benefit from the positive aspects, while avoiding any possible detrimental effects on human health and the environment.
Forest fires are another problem, particularly - but not only - for Mediterranean Europe, where serious, localised crises are recurrent. These fires are often devastating to the environment and forest assets, but also to agriculture and rural life. FAO is striving hard to harmonise forest fire policies, regulations and procedures, to improve early warning and information systems and to find the resources to strengthen national response capacity.
(State of food and agriculture in the region and challenges)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since the start of the reforms in the early 1990s, the number of people below national poverty lines in the European transition economies has increased quite substantially. In 1998, nearly 21 million people in the transition economies lived on US$2 or less per day.
However, the past three years have seen positive developments affecting the poverty and food insecurity situation in both the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the four countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) classified as part of the European Region. First, there has been political stabilization in the countries of former Yugoslavia. Second, the marketing year 2001/02 saw bumper harvests in the region. Third, the region as a whole has now seen three consecutive years of good growth, and the outlook for growth in 2002 is also positive. These developments have allowed for the substantial phasing out of food aid in the region.
Three recent policy developments stemming from the EU and addressing the EU-accession countries of Eastern Europe hold some promise for the future:
• Implementation of the Agenda 2000 reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) started in 2000. Just as important, EU intervention prices have fallen over the last three years in US dollar terms as a result of Euro depreciation vis-à-vis the US dollar. Decreases in intervention prices under Agenda 2000 and Euro depreciation would have the effect of bringing EU cereal prices into line with international prices.
• Negotiations on the agricultural chapter for EU-accession countries have received new impetus with the publishing of the Commission's proposal on how the CAP will apply to accession countries.
• The decision to establish a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an independent advisory body, separate from European Community institutions yet funded by the EU, is a significant step in restoring consumer confidence in European food for the future. It can be expected to bolster future demand, particularly for livestock products.
(Highlights of FAO activities in the European region)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In response to the changes in Europe and the emergence of transition economies, FAO has taken a number of important steps to increase its presence in the Region. A key move was the establishment in Budapest in 1996 of a Sub-Regional Office for Central and Eastern Europe. And since 2000-2001, the Regional Office for Europe based in Rome has been considerably strengthened. As only one country in the region is serviced by a fully-fledged FAO Representation, negotiations have begun with those Member Nations that have submitted a request to establish National Correspondent/Senior Technical Officer posts in the Region. Three National Correspondent posts are already established and functional.
The Regional Conference in Porto two years ago endorsed the following short- and medium-term priorities identified within the long-term Strategic Framework:
i) Poverty reduction, through support to sustainable rural livelihoods and food security;
ii) Food safety and quality;
iii) Sustainable management of natural resources; and
iv) Institution- and capacity-building to support the process of transition to market economies in the rural sector.
Consequently, FAO has focused on these areas in its implementation of programmes and activities in the region in the past biennium.
(Issues on the agenda)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This Twenty-Third Regional Conference will examine the key issues relating to the fight against food insecurity. One of its major tasks will be to prepare for the World Food Summit: five years later, which will be held in Rome from 10 to 13 June this year to accelerate implementation of the decisions taken in 1996, and make it possible to reduce by half the number of people suffering from hunger by the year 2015. This important meeting, which was postponed because of tragic international circumstances, should help revitalize the fight against hunger. Progress made towards the objective set in 1996 of halving the number of undernourished people in the world by 2015 has been inadequate. At the present rate, this would only be achievable towards 2050. The Summit this June will be called upon to identify and adopt concrete measures to correct this delay. It is imperative to reinforce the political will at the highest level and to mobilize the necessary financial resources. This means forging strategic alliances and devising appropriate mechanisms and incentives for marshalling public and private funding, along two main lines of action:
• Strengthening political will through alliances for food security and rural development that should involve all sectors of society: the governments, the private sector and civil society organizations.
• Mobilizing private and public funds for agriculture and rural development to reverse in real terms the negative trend of bilateral overseas development assistance which fell by 49 percent in real terms between 1990 and 1999, and the share of the portfolio of World Bank and regional financial institutions which fell by 45 percent during the same period.
In this context, the personal participation of the Heads of State and Government of the European Region at the World Food Summit is essential for its success. I therefore look forward to the pleasure of welcoming them in Rome in June. Besides the statements at plenary sessions, the Heads of State and Government will be able to exchange views at round tables and participate, if they so wish, in daily press conferences. Separate meetings of parliamentarians, private sector NGOs and civil society will give other stakeholders the opportunity to provide their input to the debate. A stock exchange of Regional programmes of food security will be organized in the framework of side events to initiate exchange of views on concrete investment needs.
The other two major issues on your agenda concern desertification and land degradation, on the one hand, and food safety and quality, on the other.
Desertification and land degradation during the last decade have been aggravated quite substantially in the European region, due to a number of factors. Recommendations have been proposed for your endorsement to improve the situation. FAO cooperation with the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to which 37 European countries and the European Commission are signatories, should facilitate the coordination of programmes and actions.
Concerns over food safety and quality are increasing worldwide, as the reported incidence of disease has increased over the last decades. They are priority issues for governments, food producers, industry, traders and consumers alike. In the European region, some food safety and quality problems in recent years have sometimes even endangered consumers’ health, as well as hampering trade within and beyond the region.
FAO welcomed the “Pan European Food Safety Initiative” proposed by His Excellency L.J. Brinkhorst, the Minister for Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries of the Netherlands at your last Regional Conference in Porto. As you know, part of the initiative included the convening of an FAO/WHO Pan European Conference on Food Safety and Quality, which was held in Budapest last February at the kind invitation of the Government of Hungary. The main recommendations of the Pan European Conference are submitted for your endorsement and I look forward to the follow-up activities that need to be taken.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me mention two other important issues. On the occasion of World Food Day, last October, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, His Excellency Mr Johannes Rau, called for an International Alliance against hunger and poverty. This concept was subsequently widely supported at the FAO Conference in November 2001. Such an Alliance, support for which was also expressed at the FAO Regional Conferences for Africa, the Near East, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia and the Pacific could be the tangible expression of reinforced political will and an important step towards removing the despair and anger that are so favourable to extremism.
Also, the Organization last year set up a Trust Fund for Food Security and Food Safety. This will play a catalytic role in increasing investment in agriculture and rural development, through:
• Pilot projects of food production and income generation in poor rural communities.
• Programmes for eradicating transboundary pests and diseases of plants and animals.
• Transfer of technology, in particular through South-South Cooperation.
• Strengthening of capacities to prepare feasibility studies of bankable projects.
The success to date, with 20 percent of the initial sum of US$500 million already secured, would be even greater if further pledges could be made before the Summit. Each contribution is to be used following an agreement with the relevant donor.
Both developed and developing countries are expected to participate, in accordance, naturally, with their means and political commitments, to ensure that this fund is truly universal.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Recent events have dramatically recalled us to the need to deal with hunger. The injustice of 800 million people going to bed hungry every night while, in other parts of the world, food is abundant and sometimes wasted, cannot be overlooked. Such a situation fuels the sense of frustration and swells the ranks of those who believe that inequities cannot be eliminated through peaceful means.
Progress in reducing hunger is not only necessary to improve the livelihoods of the poor and hungry people themselves. Reducing hunger and food insecurity is in the interest of all, poor and rich alike. It lessens international tensions, prevents people from migrating for economic or socio-political reasons, and creates strong trading partners so that all nations can take advantage of the opportunities arising from an equitable globalization. Strengthening democracy and empowering people to decide their own fate are essential steps in this regard. I am sure you will agree with me that unless the right to food is fulfilled, exercising all other human and political rights will be compromised.
The generosity of Europe in providing food assistance to populations stricken by natural and manmade calamities is commendable, but Europe could do more and better - instead of giving fish, enabling the hungry to fish for themselves- and thus help the farmers, herders and fishers of the less advanced countries through investment and the transfer of technology. The programmes of assistance to developing countries executed in partnership with FAO provide an appropriate framework for such action, which would confirm Europe’s central role in world stability and progress.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I await the outcome of your deliberations with great interest and wish you every success in your work.