FAO - 50 years on: A celebration and a challenge


"Awareness and consensus are vital"




The Rt Hon the Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
Minister for Overseas Development
United Kingdom

Fifty years ago there were 2 500 million people in the world. Today there are an estimated 5 700 million, and in 50 years' time, there may be 8-10 000 million people to feed, clothe and shelter. Every second, there are three new mouths to feed.

When FAO was founded, the majority of the world's population made their living through agriculture and the exploitation of natural resources. By the turn of the century, the majority will live in cities of the developing world.

The challenge is to meet the needs of humanity now and into the future without permanently damaging our life support system.

In its first 50 years, FAO has much to be proud of. Many people enjoy a better quality of life because of its programmes. However, there is no room for complacency. The needs of increasing populations, poverty, malnutrition, land degradation, deforestation, pollution, loss of biological diversity and the over-exploitation of the oceans remind us that no organization can rest on its laurels. More than 1 000 million people live in poverty which, with rapid population growth, has taken its toll on the environment. No single organization or aid agency can tackle these problems alone.

As the Minister responsible for the British aid programme, I have been much heartened by recent progress. The new age of democracy in South Africa heralded by the 1994 elections was, without doubt, a highlight. India has achieved remarkable improvements in food security. And during a recent visit I saw how, by providing training and banking credit for destitute women, the Bangladesh Rural Development Committee had enabled nearly half a million women to set up small rural enterprises. These are the kind of successes we must build on.

This book celebrating FAO's 50th Anniversary is about the challenges past, present and future faced by communities in countries like South Africa, India and Bangladesh to improve the quality of their lives. It aims to inform and educate: awareness and consensus are vital tools for alleviating poverty and tackling the problems of the environment. It presents information in a way that is accessible to all. It will, I hope, help a better understanding of the issues and how we might make our world a better place.

The UK is proud to have been one of the countries that founded FAO. Its first Director-General - Lord Boyd Orr - was from Britain. He had helped formulate the policies and programmes which, despite the siege economy of the Second World War, succeeded in doubling agricultural production and improved nutrition between 1939 and 1945. Since then the UK has played an active part in the evolution and activities of the Organization. British and Commonwealth expertise have made a substantial input into FAO's projects and programmes.

At Rio, the governments of the world agreed that the goal was "sustainable economic and social development" economic growth and improved quality of life with environmental conservation. FAO has a key role to play. We all have a role to play.

We are giving our own bilateral aid programmes a sharper focus and clearer objectives, and look for similar reforms within FAO and the UN system. We are keen to see the Organization adapt to the changing environment and respond to the membership's priorities and demands.

I am very happy, therefore, that the Overseas Development Administration has been able to help support the preparation of this book.