The World Food Council has examined the world food situation as it is today and as it is likely to be in the years immediately ahead.
Reports from Member Governments and other information available to the Council disclose some improvement in the situation and in prospects for the coming harvest over indications apparent when the Council last met, in November. But in spite of this slight short-run improvement, there has been no fundamental change. The world food situation is still grave.
Adverse weather in the next few months could completely wipe out the potential gains during 1948. Moreover, even if improvement does occur, world production will remain far below needs for the coming year. In most of the war-devastated countries prewar levels of food production and consumption have not yet been regained; in fact, large areas of the world have been unable to maintain the inadequate consumption levels of a year ago. In many countries even the hoped-for increases in production would leave levels of nutrition at a point where the morale, health, and working capacity of the people inevitably are impaired; the repercussions are especially grave for children and young people generally.
The slight gains in prospect for the current year are even more negligible in the face of the longer-term prospects. In the outlook from now until 1951 (a period for which some countries have formulated definite production plans), there is nothing to indicate a total world food production appreciably above the average for the prewar years. Even if production did reach prewar levels, it would mean lower per caput levels owing to the marked growth in population. The world's population is increasing at the rate of between 20 and 25 million annually. The fact that many nations are pursuing policies of full employment and of assuring better distribution of food among their peoples is another reason why there will be a very substantial increase in the total amount of food required.
A large expansion in food production is required if per caput supplies of food are to be maintained even at present levels while improvement in present diets demands an even more rapid expansion. Unless action is taken to bring about such expansion, the level of nutrition and health of the peoples of the world is likely to decline even below the standards achieved before the war. It was the inadequacy of those standards that prompted the nations to establish the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The Council is convinced that the world food situation demands from all Governments early and vigorous action and feels a responsibility for bringing the stark facts to the notice of Governments. It is also the Council's duty to recommend actions that should be undertaken. This report embodies the conclusions reached which are generally that it is urgently required not only to increase production but also to prevent food loss resulting from lack of effective conservation practice, from infestation of insects and rodents, and from animal and plant diseases.
Specific recommendations are made in this report as to the steps that can be taken to prevent the loss of food. Certain recommendations are also embodied for action to increase food production in the immediate future. In addition, the Council specifically urges that the maximum planting of cereals be encouraged in those areas where planting seasons are now getting under way.
The crucial problem for the longer term, in the Council's view, is finding ways and means to bring about an increase in food supplies. The urgent need of an expanded output is underlined by the present world food shortage and by the progressively increasing world population.
In the past, the gap between world demand and world supply has most frequently been met by expanding the area under cultivation. During and immediately after World War I, for example, a great new acreage was brought under the plow in the agricultural exporting countries. Between 1910 and 1930 there was an increase of 110 million acres in improved or cultivated land in the four major agricultural exporting countries, United States of America, Canada, Argentina, and Australia. No similar increase has occurred during and after World War II. Although opportunities still exist in various parts of the world for bringing new land into cultivation, these possibilities can only gradually be realized. While every effort must be made to utilize all land available for production, it seems likely that the gap between world supply will have to be met largely through increased yields rather than through increased acreage. Achieving greater yields will require marked increase in the supply of the requisites of production, particularly of fertilizers and farm machinery. It will also require the use of better varieties and strains of crops and livestock, better land conservation, and better feeding and agricultural practices generally.
The Council desires to draw particular attention to the significance of improved production and management of grasslands. Grass and other forms of herbage constitute the most important crop of vast areas in the world and there is enormous scope for rapid improvement both in increasing yields and in the adoption of well-known methods of consering grass for winter use. The outlook for breadgrains and feed crops indicates that world supplies of animal products will in the future more than in the past depend upon grass management.
The Council further calls attention to the increasing dependence of Western Europe on supplies of grain, not only from North America, but also from the Southern Hemisphere, and suggests that production in the Southern Hemisphere might be improved through pooling the knowledge and experience and considering the problems common to the countries concerned.
The need for a long-term expansion of production will have to be faced by the Conference. At its last session the Conference approved the recommendation that Member Governments should report annually upon their production plans and programs with the aim of developing a co-ordinated pattern of increased production. The Council has given careful consideration to the form in which these reports should be presented to the Conference.
The Council has approved the preparation of an analysis of these reports in the light of the economic factors affecting production and trade in foodstuffs and with due regard to the interdependence of surplus and deficit areas. This analysis will not only show the increased production which could be achieved as a result of the programs submitted by Governments but also the supplies, e.g. farm machinery, fertilizers, etc., which would be required for their implementation.
With regard to the specific supply requirements, the Council has embodied recommendations for action by the Director-General in its report.
In view of the seriousness of the world food situation, both present and prospective, the Council urges upon all Governments the necessity of supplying in their program reports the fullest practical information as to their production possibilities and supply requirements.
The Council feels that the joint review at the Annual Conference of these programs and of the balance sheets resulting from their analysis, will highlight the policy issues and specific problems to be dealt with and will provide the opportunity for the responsible ministers of each nation in attendance at the Conference to take the concerted action necessary for meeting them.
The action taken, of course, will be instituted by the Governments themselves. FAO can make a valuable contribution by assisting the Governments in taking concrete measures necessary to implement the new programs or make the necessary adjustments in the old ones. Such assistance is, the basic task of the Organization.
The Council has carefully examined how this assistance can best be rendered, and has concluded that the time has come when it is essential for the Director-General to submit to the Conference a report showing the order of priority which, in his opinion, should be given to the projects already proposed to FAO. Nearly four hundred resolutions have been passed at various sessions of the FAO Conference, the majority of which have recommended immediate action.
The Organization cannot within its present resources undertake all the activities proposed. The Council feels that the selection of a limited number of projects in respect to which effective action could be taken is a practical and wise policy which will prevent the wasting of FAO's resources by spreading them too thin over the Organization's huge field. With the development of regional activities and co-operation of FAO with the regional economic commissions of the United Nations and with the other specialized agencies, the Council feels that FAO will be able to carry out effectively the task allotted to it.
In addition to considering the world food situation and recommending the urgently needed action by Governments for meeting it, the Council also considered a number of other major policy questions relating to regional activities, co-operation with other international agencies, the permanent site of the headquarters, and administrative and financial questions which are discussed in some detail below.