CFS:2001/Inf.6 et Inf.7/Add.1/Rev.1



Twenty-seventh Session

Rome, 28 May - 1 June 2001



The document is intended to serve as a general introduction to two other background documents which are in preparation for the World Food Summit: five years later, on Fostering the Political Will to Fight Hunger (CFS/2001:INF6) and on Mobilising Resources to Fight Hunger (CFS/2001:INF7). It provides a broad overview of the major issues affecting agriculture and food security which have come to the fore since the WFS, and summarises some of the actions taken by FAO and its partners towards addressing them.

The combined set of documents is presented to the CFS for information and to offer Committee members an opportunity to express views on their content, which can be taken into account by the Secretariat in finalizing them for submission as background documents to the WFS:fyl.


Table of Contents



1. Leaders gathered at the World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996 affirmed their "common and national commitment to achieving food security for all" and agreed to work toward the achievement of the intermediate goal of "reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present number no later than 2015". These commitments provide what the Strategic Framework for FAO 2000-20151 describes as a "new point of reference" for the Organization and will remain the central theme of the World Food Summit: five years later (WFS:fyl).

2. The Rome Declaration on World Food Security2 placed food security in a broad context. It acknowledged the "multifaceted character of food security", emphasising the linkages with poverty eradication, peace, sustainable use of natural resources, fair trade and the prevention of natural disasters and man-made emergencies. It defined food security as "physical and economic access by all, at all times, to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe food". The WFS Plan of Action, structured around the seven commitments of the Rome Declaration, put forward 27 objectives and 182 proposed actions, covering almost every area of relevance for global, regional, national, household and individual food security.

3. The challenges facing agriculture and of assuring global food security and the sustainable management of natural resources are manifold and immensely complex. Agriculture is intimately tied to nature and hence subject to it vagaries. One year nature may reward the world with bountiful harvests when rainfall patterns neatly match the needs of crops: the next year, farmers may be devastated by drought, floods or hurricanes, or by plagues of locusts or the spread of plant pests and animal diseases which know no frontiers. But agriculture is also the harnessing of nature to provide for human needs - needs that have grown over the past century at a phenomenal rate in response to unprecedented rates of population growth and increases in purchasing power. That the world's farmers and fishermen are able to meet aggregate global food needs is increasingly due to scientific advances that have revolutionised production methods and allowed for a rapid growth in the productivity of land and water resources.

4. How nature is harnessed through agriculture, however, has become a source of intense controversy, and the sustainability of the technologies on which the intensification of farming is based is being increasingly questioned. Concerns are arising about the decline of ecosystems and biodiversity, the risk to human health and the environment associated with pesticide and fertilizer over use, the degradation of land through salinisation and declines in soil organic matter, the narrowing of the genetic base for farm crops and livestock, and the safety for consumers of foods produced under highly intensive systems. Debate is also intensifying over the interactions between agriculture and the processes of climate change which are not only significantly affected by how land is used but are also expected to have increasingly disturbing impacts on agriculture.

5. International trade is playing a rapidly growing role in the maintenance of world food security, enabling commodities to be grown where local conditions offer comparative advantages. But the increasing movement of agricultural products around the world also generates new hazards, accelerating the spread of plant pests and animal diseases, including food-borne diseases affecting humans. While the globalisation of agriculture is seen as generating aggregate welfare gains, how these benefits are distributed between farmers and consumers, poor countries and rich countries, has become the focus of intense debate.

6. In the five years since the WFS, many such issues have attained a new visibility. They have brought with them "the potential for conflict and social upheaval, they have brought to the fore numerous ethical issues that are central to food security sustainable rural development and resource management as well as to the trade-offs among these objectives. The resolution of issues raised demands reflection, dialogue and action."3 In response to its mandate, reaffirmed in the Quebec Declaration, "to help build a world where all people can live with dignity, confident of food security", FAO is deeply engaged with its member governments, other international organisations, the scientific community, the private sector, and civil society organisations in this process of reflection, dialogue and, above all, action. Most, if not all, of these issues were already cause for concern at the time of adoption of the Rome Declaration and the World Food Summit Plan of Action, but they have emerged with increased force in the past five years, and thus merit specific treatment in any examination of the global environment within which countries and the international community are addressing the problem of implementing the WFS commitments.

7. Although it is too early to analyze the response of countries, or other organizations, to these new or more acutely felt challenges, it is possible to illustrate some of the actions taken thus far by FAO to respond to them. FAO's own focus has been sharpened through the strategic planning process that was initiated following the WFS. In the Strategic Framework 2000-20154, the major trends and forces expected to have a bearing on FAO's work are identified and the relevant actions are grouped under five corporate strategies: viz. A: Contributing to the eradication of food insecurity and rural poverty; B: Promoting, developing and reinforcing policy and regulatory frameworks for food, agriculture, fisheries and forestry; C: Creating sustainable increases in the supply and availability of food and other products from the crop, livestock, fishery and forestry sectors; D: Supporting the conservation, improvement and sustainable use of natural resources for food and agriculture; and E: Improving decision-making through the provision of information and assessments and fostering of knowledge management for food and agriculture.


8. Natural and man-made disasters are a major source of human mortality, injury and displacement: they also have tremendously damaging effects on farmers' welfare as well as on their assets, and on local and national food supplies. If not properly managed, such disasters can induce serious food shortages, create conditions in which famine can take its toll on affected populations and disturb global food markets. Although much has been learnt from experience on how to predict most types of disasters and new technologies are raising the lead time for the issuance of warnings of adverse weather events, there has been an alarming increase in the number of countries per year affected by disasters since the WFS, rising from 28 to 46 between 1996 and 2000: moreover this trend appears to have been linked to a rise in the scale of damage. Much of the increase has been in countries affected by natural disasters (rising from 10 to 18 per year), but to which extent this is due to the impact of climate change induced by global warming - and hence human induced - is not clear. The most alarming trend is in the steep increase in the number of countries afflicted by man-made disasters which have risen from an average of 5 in the 1980s to 22 in 2000, mainly due to conflict. Emergency situations with important social and economic repercussions are also created by the spread of plant pests and animal diseases, as well as by human diseases including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

9. One of the implications of the recent escalation in the number and scale of disasters is that these have tended to focus international and national attention - as well as resources - on damage limitation activities, drawing attention away from less dramatic but equally significant issues which are perceived as being less urgent. This appears to be the case in relation to problems of chronic hunger, yet it is the failure to address these satisfactorily that predisposes very large numbers of poor families to be so vulnerable to shock, whether man-made or natural.


10. Conflict is the principal source of man-made disaster. Between 30 and 40 countries were engaged in conflict at the end of the 20th century, affecting hundreds of millions of people. Wars were heavily concentrated in the least developed countries of Africa, but the 1990s also saw major actions in the Middle East, the Balkans, Central America and Asia.5 There has been a trend away from wars between countries towards intra-country conflicts, often resulting in massive displacements of rural populations, looting of farms and the indiscriminate laying of land-mines. The economic losses and disruptions to food supplies and access, especially in low income countries, can be immense, and the recovery of the agricultural sector from war damage can be painfully slow. Estimates suggest that the direct impact of conflict on agriculture (in 23 countries for which data were available) amounted to almost US$55 billion between 1990 and 1997, in the latter year accounting for 40 % of their agricultural GDP.

11. To the extent that conflict arises in many cases from competition for scarce resources, much of FAO's work, particularly in the legislative and regulatory field, has implications for conflict prevention. Agreements on the sharing of international water resources and on fishing rights, clarification of land tenure arrangements and measures which lead to an enhanced role for communities in the management of natural resources all contribute to reduced tensions between and within countries.

12. The distinction is often made between emergency response, rehabilitation and development whereas in practice this is a continuum requiring a long-term commitment of both governments and the international community. The danger is that, once the spotlight has shifted away from the harrowing scenes of war and post-conflict situations, it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain the effort and mobilise the resources required to restore food security and sustain agricultural growth, pre-disposing the affected populations to fall back again into conflict.

13. FAO has significantly stepped up the scale of its emergency work and is progressively broadening this from the supply of agricultural inputs immediately following disasters to early rehabilitation in post-conflict situations and the re-integration of ex-combatants and displaced farmers into agriculture. Emergency agricultural assistance deliveries rose from US$28 million in 1997 to US$65 million in 2000 in over 50 countries, focusing mainly in the Great Lakes Region, Central and West Africa, but the scale of assistance, not only by FAO but also by its partners, remains very small in relation to needs. The Organization also manages the agricultural component of the Oil-for-Food Programme in Iraq, involving commitments of over US$400 million in 2000. In a number of countries (e.g. Haiti, Cambodia, Angola), it has assisted governments in reviewing and realigning agricultural policies in the wake of political turmoil and internal conflict in order to create a policy environment and institutional conditions conducive to investment and agricultural growth.


14. Windstorms and floods accounted for 60% of the total economic loss caused by natural disasters between 1990 and 1999, compared to some 25% due to earthquakes and eruptions.6 In 1998, damage, attributed largely to El Niño and La Niña phenomena, has been estimated at US$89 billion, some 32,000 people were killed and 300 million were displaced from their homes and livelihood systems. In recent years, major storms and floods have struck China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Southern Africa (especially Mozambique), Central America, the Caribbean and Venezuela. Floods, preceding a drought, were also a significant cause of the intense food shortages affecting parts of the Horn of Africa in 2000. Small Island Developing States remain particularly susceptible to weather-induced calamity because it frequently assumes a national scale.

15. Many natural hazards do not cause disasters. The extent to which a disaster situation is induced by natural events is largely a function of the effectiveness of early warning systems, of the nature and scope of human activity and of the extent of infrastructure and services which can offer protection. Poor people in the densely populated areas of developing countries are the most susceptible to natural disasters, and studies suggest that the growing scale of such disasters is attributable to economic, social and population pressures, contributing to environmental degradation. Conversely, as has been shown by an FAO-managed project in Honduras, good opportunities exist for strengthening the resilience of densely populated rural areas to major storms and flooding through working with communities to address land management and tenure issues and thereby create better soil cover and conditions for in situ capture and retention of rainfall.

16. In line with Commitment Five of the WFS Plan of Action, FAO, together with partner agencies, has sought to strengthen its capacity to prevent and be prepared for natural disasters and other emergencies, following lines set out under section A.3 of the Strategic Framework. Much of the emphasis has been on strengthening early warning capacities through improving the performance of the Global Information and Early Warning Systems (GIEWS), partly through increasing the number of Crop and Food Supply Assessment Missions (up from 26 in 1994 to 36 in 2000, of which 70% were mounted jointly with WFP). There has also been a progressive increase in the scale of Emergency Operations (EMOPs), most of which are jointly approved by the Director-General of FAO and the Executive Director of WFP, with the value rising from some US$600 million per year in 1994-96 to a record level of US$1.43 billion in 2000. An average of over 30 million people benefited in each of the last 4 years of the 20th century from food assistance provided through such EMOPs.

17. As part of its Medium-Term Plan (2002-2007), the Organization has taken measures to enhance its capacity for long-term planning for disaster prevention and mitigation. This is well illustrated by the study conducted at the request of the UN Secretary-General by an Inter-Agency Task Force on the UN Response to Long Term Food Security, Agricultural Development and Related Aspects in the Horn of Africa7, chaired by the FAO Director-General, and for which the Organization provided the secretariat. FAO is also actively engaged in the implementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought (UNCDD), as a member of the Facilitation Committee and of the Technical Advisory Group of the Global Mechanism, and is undertaking a number of normative activities related to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), looking particularly at the role of forests and soils in carbon sequestration8, as well as at the implications of global warming on low-lying and small island states.


18. There has been a particularly high frequency in the introduction and incidence of pests of crops and stored products as well as of diseases of livestock in recent years, many of which have an ability to move fast, over long distances, threatening food security and incomes, disrupting trade and, in some cases, becoming a hazard to human health. The economic costs of locust and army worm attacks on crops in Africa and the Middle East or of Cassava Mosaic Virus across Africa, Swine Fever in Haiti, East Coast Fever in Southern and Eastern Africa, New World Screw Worm in North Africa and the Middle East, Foot and Mouth Disease in the UK and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in Europe are enormous.

19. Pests of stored products, such as the Large Grain Borer which is spreading rapidly throughout East and Southern Africa following its accidental introduction, are undermining the food security of large numbers of subsistence farmers who grow maize as a staple crop. Indeed the loss of crops after harvest through storage pests and diseases and spoilage at other stages of the food chain, constitutes an enormous source of waste throughout the world.

20. While good progress has been made in reducing the incidence of some major diseases of livestock, such as Rinderpest (which is targeted for world-wide eradication by 2010), factors conducive to the spread of plant and animal pests and diseases are becoming more favourable. These include the rapid rise in international trade and traffic. In particular, long-distance international trade in plants, plant products and animals9, exacerbated by the increased movement of live plants and animals and fresh products; rising intensities of farming, including large-scale mono-cropping and heavy concentrations of single-purpose livestock; a decrease in the genetic variability of the world's principal crops, and a progressive tightening of restrictions on the use of certain pesticides on which there has been heavy dependence for the control of migratory plant pests as well as quarantine treatment at borders and grain storage pests. Any further change in temperature and humidity resulting from global warming could have an important impact on the distribution of of crop pests and insect vectors of livestock diseases . In some developing countries and countries with economies in transition, conflict and a collapse of veterinary and plant protection services have prevented adequate surveillance.

21. One particularly worrying recent development has been the emergence of apparently new animal diseases, including not only BSE but also porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and equine morbillivirus disease.

22. In the case of all transboundary pests and diseases, control and containment at source is much cheaper and more certain in its results than responding to catastrophic outbreaks. But this requires new modes of inter-country cooperation and a willingness of those countries not yet affected by a potentially damaging pest or disease to invest in containment and control in those countries in which it is present.

23. It is this thinking which has been behind the creation by FAO of the Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) which has propounded the principles of Early Warning, Early Reaction, Enabling Research and Coordination which have gained universal acceptance. Actions by the Organization extend to assisting countries in coping with transboundary pest and disease outbreaks (such as bont tick and classical swine fever in the Caribbean), developing surveillance systems, convening technical and high level meetings on major disease problems (including BSE and Foot and Mouth Disease), training animal health specialists and providing leadership in Rinderpest eradication. It also includes assistance to Members in establishing and strengthening of systems for the early warning, and early control of the Desert Locust.


24. The HIV/AIDS epidemic presents a major threat to food security, agricultural production and the social fabric of rural societies in many countries. Some 36 million people are infected world-wide, 95% of whom are in developing countries, of whom 24.5 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa and 4 million in India. HIV/AIDS induces a downward spiral in the welfare of a family when the first adult falls ill. Health care expenses increase, productivity declines, incomes drop, assets are sold, children leave school and the heavy burden of funeral expenses adds to the costs that families have to meet. But the effect is felt also at community and national levels: a generation gap occurs, reducing the able-bodied labour force and leaving grandparents caring for orphaned children, often themselves infected from birth. In the 10 most affected African countries, labour force decreases ranging from 10 to 26 percent are anticipated, with enormous repercussions for agricultural production and economic growth.

25. FAO's focus is principally on incorporating an HIV/AIDS dimension, where appropriate, into its on-going food security, nutrition and agricultural development initiatives, especially through its field programmes in affected countries. For example, FAO has carried out assessments of the impact of HIV/AIDS on various aspects of agriculture, food security and rural development, including research on agricultural extension organizations, farm operations and livestock management systems in selected countries in eastern and southern Africa. In Asia, the participatory methodologies utilised by the Farmer Field Schools and Integrated Pest Management programmes are being successfully applied to HIV/AIDS prevention. FAO is also developing guidelines for community/home-based nutritional care for HIV/AIDS patients and affected households. A co-operative framework agreement committing FAO and UNAIDS to work together to respond to HIV/AIDS issues relating to agriculture development and food security was signed in July 1999. Through this FAO and UNAIDS are undertaking joint activities, including integrated prevention and mitigation programmes that will help spread information about HIV vulnerabilityand risk reduction, and promote nutritional well-being and sustainable rural development.


26. A series of international conferences including the Sixth Session of the Committee on Sustainable Development (CSD6) and the 2nd World Water Forum have brought to the fore the increasing conflict between "Water for Food and Rural Development" and "Water for Nature". Many feel that resolving the differences between these sectoral views is one of the key challenges facing society at the beginning of the 21st century. As the prognostic studies of the World Water Commission have shown, in the early 21st century increasing competition for water will further exacerbate domestic water supply problems, water pollution, regional food shortages and environmental standards if no decisive action is taken. Mismanagement of this crisis will result in large numbers of people without access to safe water, in food insecure conditions and with deteriorating health standards. Competition for scarce water resources, particularly where these cross international boundaries, is often a source of dispute and may lead to conflicts. Groundwater abstraction is already exceeding replenishment rates in many areas that rely heavily on irrigation such as in Northern China, parts of India and many countries in the Near East.

27. Given that irrigated agriculture is the dominant user of water withdrawn from nature for human purposes, the future of irrigated agriculture is at the heart of the debate. Some groups assert that between 15% to 20% more water will be needed for agriculture for global and national food security. They feel that national strategies should focus on options to minimise environmental and social costs in the quest to use water for agriculture. Others feel that irrigation expansion is not an option because of high social and environmental costs, and that there are other means to produce enough food. At stake are the size and nature of both local and international investments that are necessary to grow food for a growing population, provide sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor and maintain the quality and integrity of the environment.

28. The main consumptive uses of water are for human consumption (9 %), industry (20 %) and agriculture (71 %). Fresh water also plays an important economic role in inland fisheries, navigation and hydro-electricity generation as well as in the maintenance of biodiversity and the moderation of local climatic extremes. Irrigation, although covering only 17% of farmland, accounts for some 40% of world food production and will play an increasingly significant role in assuring global food security in future as the opportunities for extending the agricultural frontier diminish. However, much of the most readily irrigable land and many of the best water storage sites have already been developed. There are also major environmental and social concerns over the effects of large dams and major inter-basin transfer systems.

29. The distribution of irrigated land is quite unequal among regions. While in South Asia a full 42% of arable land is irrigated, the percentage drops to 31% in the Near East/North Africa, 14% in Latin America and only 4% in Sub-Saharan Africa. The average for developing regions is 27%.

30. One of the avenues for increasing irrigated agricultural production is through improving the productivity of existing irrigation schemes in terms of the food output per unit of water consumed. Current water use efficiencies are so low (between 25 to 40 %) that there is large scope for improvement. Water use efficiencies for agriculture can be upgraded through technical and managerial means. Securing such improvements usually requires strengthened cooperation amongst farmers in the management and maintenance of irrigation systems and a water pricing system which discourages wastage. Beyond squandering a scarce resource, wastage may lead to land degradation including salinisation that is already affecting to varying degrees more than 30 million ha and causing substantial production losses.

31. Small-scale irrigation development is proposed by many to avoid the controversy about large water projects and management problems related to large-scale irrigation. Small-scale irrigation promotes community ownership and is a suitable way to mobilize local resources. It is low in cost and has demonstrated resilience even under adverse conditions and high productivity where production is close to the market and farmers have control over water resources.

32. Many cities, in particular in Africa, are surrounded by green belts of highly productive horticulture. Recent years have witnessed rapid growth in peri-urban agriculture that, in some countries, is supplying up to 40% of all fruits and vegetables consumed in the cities. With this growth of peri-urban agriculture, and rising demands on water, growers in countries where water is scarce are turning increasingly to untreated or partially treated effluents for vegetable production. This is of great concern in view of serious health hazards and negative impact on the environment. Suitable technologies for wastewater treatment and safe food chains from the peri-urban producer to the local market are required.

33. Through its normative activities and field programmes, FAO is addressing many of these complex issues. It is collaborating closely with the World Bank, CGIAR Centres and other partners in supporting innovative approaches to water resources management and water use efficiency improvement. The Organisation's expertise in water resources management and water law is actively engaged in processes to ensure equitable management of water resources across international boundaries. It plays a significant role in assisting member countries in formulating irrigation sector strategies and preparing irrigation projects - usually focused on technical and institutional modernization and water use efficiency improvements - for financing by the international financing institutions, and it is piloting ways of raising the effectiveness of water users' associations in system management.


34. All projections of agricultural production in the first decades of the 21st century10 point to the increasing role that intensification of farming will play in meeting the expected growth in demand for food. Improved crop varieties and animal breeds, greater use of fertilisers and pesticides, better farm equipment and improvements in livestock care and health have all contributed importantly to the growth in agricultural output which has responded not only to the demands of a population which has doubled from 3 billion in 1960 to 6 billion today but also enabled average daily food intake to rise from 2,250 kcal to 2,800 kcal. Environmentalists and consumers are, however, seriously questioning the sustainability of, and the safety of food produced by, the intensive farming systems on which global food security has become increasingly dependent. There are particular concerns, shared by environmental and public health authorities, about the effects of over use of pesticides and fertilizers on human health, ecosystem and biodiversity. A major factor is the pollution of water resources, in areas of highly intensive farming in both developing and developed countries . A narrowing of the genetic diversity in major crop and livestock species is increasingly perceived as a source of potential risk. And consumers are becoming more vocal about the potential risks to food safety of pesticide residues, food-borne diseases and contaminants, and the spread of diseases from livestock to humans (see food safety, below).

35. These concerns are bound eventually to induce innovations which will lead to the development of more sustainable ways of managing land and livestock intensively. The majority of yield increases will undoubtedly continue to result from improvements of classical/conventional technology, in particular improvement of water use efficiency and improved nutrient uptake by plants and animals. Access to conventional technologies is still beyond the means of many farmers, as is evidenced by the very low levels of fertilizer utilisation in Africa (some 19 kg per ha per year, compared to 100 kg/ha in East Asia and 230 kg/ha in Western Europe). Problems of access stem from the limited development of input marketing and credit systems, high costs of transport (a function of poor roads and small volumes of trade) and, in the case of subsistence farmers, a sheer lack of income with which to buy inputs.

36. One response to this, to which special attention is being given by FAO, the World Bank and other international partners in the Soil Fertility Initiative for Africa, is to look to alternative ways of maintaining soil productivity which rely less on the use of externally purchased inputs. These include ways of intensifying land use through crop rotations and agro-forestry systems designed to enhance Biological Nitrogen Fixation (BNF) as well as integrated crop-livestock systems. In countries in which land availability is not yet a major constraint, the emphasis is increasingly on technology changes which raise labour productivity, such as minimum tillage systems, which enable a family to maintain a larger area under cultivation. At the same time, there may be a further growth in organic agriculture in response to consumer concerns over the risks perceived as being associated with farming systems based on the intensive use of chemical inputs. Initially a spontaneous movement, responding to consumer demand and the willingness to pay premium prices for organic produce, a number of governments are now pro-actively supporting the expansion of organic farming on grounds of environmental friendliness and sustainability. FAO is contributing to the international debate on organic farming and has recently reported on its actions to the Committee on Agriculture (COAG).11

37. Pesticide problems, in particular in developing countries, include poisonings and negative effects on the environment. Developing countries often have inadequate legislation and regulations, insufficient capacity to make informed decisions, weak enforcement of regulations, including import control, uncontrolled distribution systems and a lack of knowledge and understanding in particular at the extension and farmer level. The FAO Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides provides general guidance on pesticide management. The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, which was adopted in 1998 and to which UNEP and FAO provide the Secretariat, promotes the shared responsibility among countries in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals, including pesticides, by providing for a national decision making process on their import and export and by disseminating these decisions. FAO and its partners, through its IPM programme and the Global IPM Facility, are also promoting programmes for a better understanding of the relationship between crops and pests among policy makers and scientists and among farmers so that they make decisions that reduce dependence on pesticides to what is really necessary.

38. Strong hopes have been placed on current applications of biotechnology, particularly plant tissue culture (already well established in forestry and floriculture), the use of molecular markers and the genetic modification of agricultural organisms using recombinant DNA techniques to overcome many of the persistent environmental and safety problems associated with intensive agricultural production. It is envisaged that biotechnology-derived solutions could contribute not only to improving plant resistance to pests and diseases, but also to finding innovative solutions to combating stresses imposed by drought and low fertility. Biotechnology also provides useful applications in disease diagnosis.12 Together with classical technologies, including those based on local knowledge , these new developments in biotechnology have the potential to broaden substantially the options available to farmers in all regions of the world to increase the productivity and sustainability of their farming systems. However, real and perceived uncertainties and risks associated with the application of biotechnology have resulted in widespread opposition by both consumers and environmentalists, especially in developed countries, to the utilisation of genetic modification in crop and livestock breeding, which is impacting on the pace of research in this direction.

39. Assuming that satisfactory safeguards can be developed and applied to limit risks to plant, animal and human health (biosecurity risks), a major issue which emerges is the extent to which new biotechnology applications will benefit farmers, especially small farmers, in developing countries. Given that most current biotechnology research is by the private sector, it is strongly market-driven and therefore low priority is being given to applications of relevance to developing countries, where the purchasing power of farmers is relatively limited and the possibility of enforcing breeder's rights may be in doubt. Developing country access could be further curtailed by the provisions of the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) which safeguard the interests of the originators of new technologies through patents. One implication is that much biotechnology development for developing countries would need to be sponsored and possibly undertaken by the public sector, including the International Agricultural Research Centres which operate within the ambit of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

40. There are undoubtedly benefits, risks and uncertainties, associated with the new generation of biotechnologies. FAO has seen its role at this stage as principally one of facilitating a constructive debate on the controversial issues surrounding Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)13, in exchanging information and in helping its member countries formulate policies and laws in relation to GMOs. To underpin this it has established an electronic forum on biotechnology and contributed to many international conferences on the subject, focusing especially on biosafety as well as on food safety aspects.14 Plant pest risks associated with living modified organisms (LMOs) and other products of biotechnology are of special concern to the Secretariat to the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), which is provided by FAO. With regard to food safety, the Organization is currently engaged, jointly with WHO and through the intergovernmental Codex Alimentarius Commission, in developing risk assessment principles and guidelines for the safety evaluation of foods derived from biotechnologies. Furthermore, the Organization is promoting the elaboration of a Code of Conduct on Biotechnology and the recognition of Farmers' Rights to plant genetic material as being complementary to Plant Breeder's Rights, the intention being to ensure a fairer and more equitable sharing of the benefits of biotechnology advances.


41. As globalisation has unfolded in recent years, there has not only been more emphasis on international trade in food and agriculture but also an increased awareness of the importance of ensuring an adequate supply of global public goods to safeguard long-term global food security and the sustainable use of natural resources. As far as food and agriculture are concerned, there is recognition of the added need to conserve and use more sustainably such global common goods as genetic resources for food and agriculture and oceanic fish stocks as well as to address the inter-dependence between agriculture and climate change.

42. With regard to genetic resources for food and agriculture, despite their vital importance for human survival, they are being lost at an increasingly alarming rate, which drastically reduces the capacity of present and future generations to cope with unpredictable environmental shocks and changing needs. No country is self-sufficient with respect to genetic resources for food and agriculture. Genetic resources provide the raw material for biotechnology. While the industrialized world has developed legal-economic mechanisms, such as intellectual property rights, to provide incentives for the development of new biotechnologies and to compensate their inventors, there are still no effective economic or legal mechanisms to compensate and provide incentives for the developers of the raw material, the genetic resources themselves. These are mainly traditional farmers in developing countries.

43. In this context, the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is currently negotiating the revision of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, as an internationally binding instrument, governing access and benefit sharing for plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Another example of the Organization's recent contribution to the conservation and sustainable use of global public goods is the Code of Conduct on Responsible Fisheries adopted by the FAO Conference in 1995.

44. The processes of globalisation present both opportunities and risks for the agricultural sectors of developing countries. Given that agriculture remains the dominant sector in most developing countries and their main source of exports, reductions in barriers to trade expand the opportunities for raising sectoral output. But globalisation raises risks of marginalisation for countries which, because of their resource endowment, location, size or lack of skills and infrastructure, remain uncompetitive in world markets and unable to attract investment. Globalisation also brings with it the risk, very evident in the years following the WFS, that instability in the international financing systems and fluctuations in the performance of the major world economies, have knock-on effects on countries which have become heavily dependent on external trade and investment. Countries which are heavily dependent on the export of a narrow range of commodities are particularly vulnerable to such shocks, which can have major repercussions on the livelihoods and food security of their farming populations.

45. The past six years have seen the implementation of the Uruguay Round Agreements which brought agriculture within the GATT/WTO framework for the first time. The experience has been mixed: while the Agriculture Agreement has contributed to reinstrumentation of domestic and trade policies, actual changes in the levels of support and protection have not been deep enough for the Agreement to have tangible impacts on global trade and incomes. Thus total support of OECD countries to their farmers amounted to US$356 billion in 1999 alone15. Agricultural tariffs remain high, especially for temperate zone horticulture, sugar, cereals, dairy products and meat, and tariff escalation continues to give particular protection to processed foods, notably the value-added forms of coffee, cocoa and oilseeds, in importing countries. Moreover the complexity of import regimes and of accessing tariff rate quotas as well as the costs of complying with sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) and technical barriers to trade (TBT) continue to create obstacles to market expansion which may be insurmountable especially for small economies.

46. The extent to which developing countries are able to take advantage of new market opportunities emerging from globalisation ultimately depends on their competitiveness and their capacity to increase the production of goods which are in demand. This may require substantial investments in infrastructure, technology and communications aimed at reducing costs and speeding up transport. But it also calls for developing institutional capacities to set and enforce high standards and for training of farmers in production of marketable products of a high standard. Bulking up supplies and ensuring a consistent flow of products will depend on collective action of farmers, usually tied to enhanced linkages with the private sector such as through contract farming schemes.

47. Anticipating that trade liberalisation would create transitional problems for some food importing developing countries, compensatory measures were envisaged under the Marrakech Decision on Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Process on the Least-Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries. The failure to make the Decision effective runs the risk of undermining the confidence in the fairness of the international system of those developing countries which have taken steps to liberalise their trade regimes. FAO has recently proposed options for making the Decision effective.16

48. The important contribution that expanded trading opportunities can make to the economic development of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) has been given priority attention by the European Union (EU)17 which will host the Third United Nations Conference on the LDCs (UNLDC III) in Brussels in May 200118. The recent decision by the EU to provide duty-free and quota-free access to all exports, except arms, from the Least Developed Countries under the Everything but Arms initiative is a tangible move towards the implementation of the Union's new development policies. New Zealand, Canada and Norway have also announced similar actions in favour of LDCs19. As part of the UNLDC III, FAO has accepted responsibility to organise the special thematic session on "the agricultural sector and food security".

49. The main issue relating to globalisation and liberalisation concerns the distribution of the aggregate benefits which will be generated. Reductions in market protection on the part of developed countries and in restrictions on the international movement of labour, combined with purposive sharing of advances in information and communication technologies, could do much to ensure that globalisation contributes to the more equitable world which has been envisaged in the Millennium Declaration20 and to the achievement, in particular, of the WFS goal.

50. New negotiations on agriculture were launched by the WTO in February 2000, to be carried out in two major phases through a series of Special Sessions of the WTO Committee on Agriculture. The first phase was completed in March 2001 with a stock-taking meeting of the negotiating proposals that had been submitted by Members. That meeting also agreed to a work programme and timetable for the second phase of the negotiations which will consider, in depth, all issues and options for policy reform set out in Members'proposals. A meeting to review progress in the negotiations will take place in March 2002. The work programme and schedule were adopted without prejudice to the decisions that may be taken at the fourth WTO Ministerial Conference scheduled for 9-13 November 2001 in Qatar.

51. FAO has a long history of engagement in issues relating to trade in agricultural products and inputs, reporting to the Committee on Commodity Problems (CCP) and its subsidiary Intergovernmental Groups. In line with Commitment Four of the WFS Plan of Action, however, the Organization has stepped up its assistance to developing countries in "preparing for multilateral trade negotiations including in agriculture, fisheries and forestry inter alia through studies, analysis and training". The Organization has published various assessments of the impact of the Uruguay Round on agricultural markets and food security, as well as a volume on developing country experience with implementation of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. It continues to provide inter-governmental fora for the discussion of relevant instruments concerned especially with standard setting: these include the Codex Alimentarius Commission (food quality and safety standards) and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) (phytosanitary standards). Concerning the IPPC, the Organization has established an inter-governmental forum and a standard setting mechanism and procedure in response to the development of the SPS agreement. In addition the Organization has mounted an expanded technical assistance and training programme to build capacity in member countries to meet their WTO obligations and to participate in agricultural trade negotiations as well-informed and equal partners. Regional strategies for food security prepared by FAO with the secretariats of regional economic groupings have focussed on the creation of a legal and regulatory frameworkand the building of institutions and of scientific capacities to adopt and implement standards of the Codex and IPPC under the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS).


52. Food safety is inherent to the concept of food security. It touches on many aspects of agricultural production technologies, food handling and processing, trade and distribution, as noted earlier in this paper. The causes and categories of food safety hazards are many. They include those of microbiological origin, contaminants entering the food chain and the residues of inputs used in agricultural production and processing systems. Of particular concern are food-borne diseases of microbiological origin because of their high prevalence and possibly rising incidence trend: they arise at all stages of the food chain, and methods for assessing and managing the associated risks are in need of improvement.

53. Public awareness of food safety issues has increased dramatically, especially in developed countries, in the five years since the WFS, led by concern over BSE disease, reports of antibiotic-resistant micro-organisms in foods, the dioxin crisis of 1999, numerous outbreaks of food-borne illnesses due to microbial contamination of foods, and the appearance in human food of a genetically modified maize approved only for animal feeding. The common attribute in many of these crises has been the public opinion that the measures in place are ineffective or inefficiently applied, or applied only in the interest of increased trade or benefits to producers or to industry, and not necessarily in the interest of consumers.

54. Consumer lobbies in developing countries tend to be less vocal and regulatory systems less effective. Where hygiene is poor, often because of a lack of access to clean water, microbial contamination of food and drink is commonplace and is a major source of illness and of mortality especially amongst children. Misuse of pesticides leads to residues that are not acceptable under Codex standards and most national legislations. The joint FAO/ WHO Meetings on Pesticide Residues are continuously evaluating the pesticides proposed by the industry and making recommendations on Maximum Residue Limits in Food to Member countries and to Codex. Similarly, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) is continuously evaluating food additives, veterinary drugs and environmental contaminants and providing recommendations on the safe level of those compounds in food.

55. Improved food safety management procedures, based on principles developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, are being applied to reduce microbiological hazards. FAO/WHO expert panels have provided scientific advice that have improved the prospects of managing certain environmental contaminants in foods, particularly aflatoxins. Effective recall procedures minimised the impact and the duration of the dioxin crisis and are also being applied in the case of the genetically-modified maize for animal feed. Near-consensus has also been reached by the Commission on the general principles to be applied to ensure food safety in relation to biotechnology applications in agriculture and the food industry; and special attention is being given to the question of the possible transfer of allergenicity to genetically modified plant varieties.

56. Nevertheless, there are calls for food safety measures to be based on a wider range of factors than the scientific evaluation of risks to human health. In view of the perception that food control systems are unable to provide adequate assurances of safety, additional measures are being proposed that would provide a continuous chain of documentation of the origin and nature of every food commodity and ingredient. Such measures could place further constraints on the ability of countries to meet their food security needs and could have repercussions on international trade.

57. Efforts are being made at the international level to bring food safety issues into closer focus, with emphasis on the scientific basis of decision-making and the exercise of of precaution when the scientific base is inadequate. FAO jointly with WHO and OIE are organizing an international expert consultation on "BSE and its Risks: Animal and Public Health, International Trade".In collaborationwith WHO, FAO is planning a Pan-European Conference on Food Safety to be held in early 2002, and international meetings of food safety regulators to discuss the issues of science-based decision making and promote the exchange of information on the management of food safety risks. Regional and international rapid alert systems have been or are being developed to contain and minimise the impact of future food safety crises.


58. All of the issues which have been reviewed above have a fundamental bearing on the world's capacity to meet the food needs of its peoples and to maintain its natural resources in good condition for future generations. That some 792 million people in developing countries and 34 million in the developed world remain chronically hungry in spite of the success of farmers in generating enough food to meet everyone's needs and that there is widespread evidence of land degradation, imply that there are serious imperfections in the way in which we are handling our responsibilities and exercising our stewardship over global resources. Inequity in access to food and technology, the damage to natural resources associated with some farming methods and scientific advances, erosion of biodiversity, threats to the sustainability of ocean fisheries and trade restrictions which prevent countries from exercising and benefiting from their comparative advantages, all have important ethical dimensions. Looking at these issues from an ethical and human rights standpoint may contribute to the development of a consensus on how they can be better addressed in the common interest of humanity, capturing important considerations which may not be given sufficient weight when decisions are taken principally on technical or economic grounds or left to market forces alone.

59. One of the consequences of the WFS is that there has been intense consideration in recent years of the implications of the Right to Food, which is a recognised human right under international law, as set out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Right to Food implies the right of every human being to means of production or procurement of food of sufficient quantity and quality, free from adverse substances and culturally acceptable.21 Interpreting this right and exploring how it can be operationalised by countries has been addressed in a series of consultations, conducted by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and with the participation of FAO, which have led to a growing appreciation of the respective roles of individuals, their families and communities and various levels of the state in ensuring the Right to Food.22 A number of countries have taken steps towards operationalising the Right to Food in their agricultural and food management policies and programmes, generating experiences which other countries may wish to emulate in their attempts to achieve the WFS goal.

60. In order to improve its capacity to address ethical issues, in 2000 FAO created an independent Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture, consisting of eight international authorities. The Panel has started to analyse a range of ethical issues arising from food production and consumption practices and agricultural development, including forestry and fisheries, in the context of food security and sustainable rural development and in an environment of rapid global change. The aim is to provide neutral and objective contributions to public debate and decision-making processes.23 As part of this process, in 2001 the Organization launched the FAO Ethics Series with the publication of Ethical Issues in Food and Agriculture and Genetically Modified Organisms, Consumers, Food Safety and the Environment.24


61. It is abundantly evident from this rapid overview that agriculture and food security, locally and globally, are subject to enormous and often unpredictable risks. The risks - or at any rate the perceptions of them - are probably being magnified as agriculture intensifies to meet growing demand, as food systems adjust to respond to rapid urbanisation and as the world becomes increasingly inter-connected with the gathering pace of globalisation. At the same time, however, globalisation and the rapid contemporary advances in technology and communications, if responsibly managed, are opening new opportunities for economic development and for the emergence of a more equitable world.

62. Many of the challenges facing agriculture, forestry and fisheries have global dimensions. Pests and diseases cross national boundaries and oceans with ease; high intensity livestock systems in one country or large-scale deforestation in another contribute to global climate change, and the behaviour of an ocean current in the Pacific affects the onset and intensity of the monsoon in South Asia and of the rains in East Africa; non-compliance with international codes of conduct can harm the sustainability of global fisheries; and the subsidisation of agriculture in one country can determine whether farmers in another have a profitable outlet for their produce. We are only just beginning to understand the nature and magnitude of these interactions and how to tame and harness them for the global good.

63. In addressing uncertainties and risks, prevention and the exercise of precaution are generally the preferable courses of action, but ones which are all too often not taken in spite of the fact that the economic costs - and the human suffering - of not acting expeditiously have been shown, over and over again, to be immense. If conflict can be prevented by negotiation, vulnerable populations be given more advanced warning of a cyclone, or the spread of a life-threatening disease prevented by control at its place of origin, then lives, suffering and costs can be saved.

64. Much is being done within current capacities by governments and the international community, including FAO, towards the implementation of the WFS commitments which are relevant to the new challenges. There remains, however, much room and a strong social and economic justification for improving response capacities. If all was well, we would not see huge populations brought to the brink of famine in the Horn of Africa, massive loss of life and assets in the wake of Hurricane Mitch in Central America, millions of livestock smouldering on pyres in Europe, or deprivation amongst the cocoa farmers of West Africa who bear the brunt of a collapse in international commodity prices.

65. The implication is that there is a need to make a careful examination of the adequacy of the current institutional arrangements for international cooperation for addressing major global challenges to food security, looking particularly at their capacity to forestall and prevent crises and to react with the speed and on the scale required to limit potential damage. There is also a longer term dimension of timeliness which relates to the need to ensure that current research and knowledge generation efforts are sufficient - and appropriately oriented - to provide for future global food demand in a sustainable manner, and not driven only by short-term market forces which are insensitive to the needs of future generations.

66. Advances in surveillance, information and communication technology are opening up remarkable new opportunities for gathering, sharing, analysing and interpreting information as well as for accelerating decision making. The scientific basis for justifying global actions - such as in addressing global warming or ozone layer depletion - is becoming stronger; and there is an increasing body of legislation and instruments upon which to base mutually reinforcing international and national action to address global threats. At the same time, however, there has been a progressive ratcheting down of the resources available internationally to enable a timely response to emerging global threats and opportunities.

67. The under-provision of global public goods (GPG) is an issue which has received considerable attention in relation to the management of the global environment through Agenda 21 and led to the creation of new instruments such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Currently, there is much public debate on global public goods in the health arena, particularly in relation to under-investment in the development of affordable technologies to reduce the growing incidence of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in developing countries, where private charity has felt compelled to come to the rescue of under-resourced international programmes. The issue of global public goods supply also requires careful analysis in relation to the assurance of global food security (including food safety) and the long-term sustainability of agriculture, and one which is highly relevant to the fulfilment of each of the WFS Plan of Action commitments. It is, therefore, an issue to which the Organization will be addressing greater attention in consultation with its member governments and the other international agencies with a mandate for GPG provision.

68. The sheer range, scale and cost of the fundamental issues now affecting farming, food security and food safety, are daunting and compete with each other for political attention both internationally and within individual countries. The fact that the agenda is so crowded and that there has been a succession of emergencies which have demanded immediate interventions may help to explain why few countries - whether developed or developing - have approached the issue of chronic hunger with the determination and commitment required to achieve the WFS goal. It is precisely because there are signs of public indifference and of wavering commitment, reflected in a progressive reduction in the domestic and international resources being made available for agricultural development and food security, that WFS:fyl has been convened.

69. The 800 million people who are chronically undernourished do not make the headlines. They are voiceless in their own countries, still more so in the international community. They are the poorest of the poor. But in 1996, almost every nation in the world committed itself to the target of reducing by half the number of undernourished by 2015. That commitment still stands and must be honoured. The challenge facing us now is to decide how, in spite of the pressing demands of all the other critical problems facing farming world-wide, we can translate the commitment into reality.

70. To contribute to strengthening the resolve to take determined action, FAO has sought to focus attention on the two major challenges of fostering the political will and mobilising resources to fight hunger. As noted earlier, background papers on these two issues are presented separately for the information of the CFS.


1 FAO, The Strategic Framework for FAO 2000-2015, Rome 1999.

2 FAO, Report of the World Food Summit, 13-17 November 1996, Part one, Rome 1997.

3 FAO, Ethical Issues in Food and Agriculture, Rome 2001, page 2.

4 FAO, op. cit.

5 FAO, The State of Food and Agriculture 2000 (chapter on Conflicts, Agriculture and Food Security), Rome 2000.

6 FAO, Committee on Agriculture (16th Session), Reducing Agricultural Vulnerability to Storm-Related Disasters.

7 FAO, The Elimination of Food Insecurity in the Horn of Africa, Rome 2000.

8 FAO Committee on Agriculture (16th Session) Progress Report on Agenda 21: Highlights of FAO's Contribution, Rome 2001.

9 International trade in cereals has risen from around 30 million tons prior to World War II to 225 million tons of grain per year now.

10 See, for instance: FAO, Agriculture Towards 2015/30, Rome 2000.

11 FAO, Committee on Agriculture (16th Session): Report of the Interdepartmental Working Group on Organic Agriculture, Rome 2001.

12 FAO, Committee on Agriculture (15th Session), Biotechnology, Rome 1999. FAO, through its Joint Division with the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) has been active in developing molecular characterisation methods for crop improvement and in promoting the use of innovative livestock disease diagnostic tests (rinderpest and foot and mouth disease).

13 See, in particular, FAO, Genetically Modified Organisms, Consumers, Food Safety and the Environment, Rome 2001.

14 FAO, Committee on Agriculture (16th Session): Report of the Interdepartmental Working Group on Biotechnology, Rome 2001.

15 OECD, Agricultural Policies in OECD Countries: Monitoring and Evaluation, Paris 2000.

16 FAO, Towards making the Marrakech Decision more operationally effective, Rome, February 2001.

17 European Union, La Politique de Développement de la Communauté Européenne, Brussels 2000.

18 For a comprehensive review of the issues posed to LDCs by globalisation and liberalisation, see: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), The Least Developed Countries 2000 Report, New York and Geneva 2000.

19 Reference is also be made to the US Africa Growth and Recovery initiative, which is part of the US Trade and Development Act of 2000, from which African LDCs would also benefit.

20 UN "We the Peoples"- The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century - Millennium Report of the Secretary-General, New York 2000.

21 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Twentieth Session). General Comment 12 (E/C.12/1999/5), the right to adequate food (art. 11), 12 May 1999, paragraphs 6 and 8 in particular.

22 For a fuller consideration of issues relating to the Right to Food, see companion information paper on Fostering the Political Will to Fight Hunger.

23 FAO, Report of the Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture, First Session, 26-28 September 2000, Rome 2001.

24 FAO Ethics Series 1 & 2, respectively, FAO, Rome, 2001.