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50 years of agricultural wisdom


Lessons learned over the past 50 years are a highlight of The State of Food and Agriculture 2000, FAO's annual report. This review was written with a view to deriving policy messages for the years to come.

Undeniable progress

SOFA 2000's retrospective illustrates how technological progress has increased food production and reduced the number of hungry around the world. Thirty years ago, 960 million people didn't have enough to eat. Now the number stands at over 800 million. However, it remains a tragic fact that 13 percent of the world's population still lack access to adequate amounts of food, and more than 30 countries are experiencing serious food emergencies. As the report states, "advances in technology and resources have made hunger more avoidable and therefore more intolerable today."

An age of inequity

"Observers of our time have termed it variously an information, atomic and globalization age. It can also be characterized, sadly, as the age of inequity," writes FAO's Director-General Jacques Diouf in the foreword to this new publication.

The historical review notes that progress in the fight against hunger has been uneven. Since 1970, the number of malnourished has doubled in Africa. At the same time, it has been halved in East and Southeast Asia. In addition, the tremendous increases in agricultural production do not reveal the growing disparity among agricultural systems and populations.

"The current agricultural revolution with all its attributes, in particular its heavy, complex and very expensive motorized mechanization, has not extended very far beyond the developed world," writes Dr Marcel Mazoyer of the Institut National Agronomique Paris -Grignon, in an essay titled "The socio-economic impact of agricultural modernization". Dr Mazoyer adds, "The gap between the most productive and least productive farming systems has increased twenty-fold in the last 50 years."

Other themes featured in the review of the last half century are:

"Food and nutrition security: why food production matters", based on a contribution by Dr Michael Lipton of Sussex University;

"Agricultural production and productivity in developing countries", based on a contribution by Dr Robert Evenson of Yale University; and

"Political economy in the alleviation of poverty and food insecurity", based on a contribution by Dr Pranab K. Bardhan of University of California at Berkeley.

Two selected issues: conflict and microcredit

SOFA 2000 also includes a section on conflicts, agriculture and food security. In developing countries already experiencing high levels of undernutrition, conflicts are one of the major causes of famine. Agricultural output losses from conflict in developing countries exceeded total food aid to those countries over the last 20 years. In the 1980s the former amounted to nearly US$37 billion and the latter to US$29 billion.

Also, people have become increasingly responsible for disasters affecting food security. "Whereas human-induced disasters contributed to only about 10 percent of total emergencies in 1984, by late 1999 they were a determining factor in more than 50 percent of the cases," says the report.

Microcredit, small loans targeting the poor, is intended to help people escape poverty by investing in their own small businesses and farms. These loans have marked an innovation in rural finance. SOFA 2000 reports that the total number of borrowers grew by 50 percent between 1998 and 1999, reaching 21 million people. Twelve million of these borrowers live on less than US$1 per day.

SOFA 2000 also provides facts and figures about the current global agricultural situation and an overview of the world economic environment, world trade and commodity prices. In addition, it outlines the short- and medium-term prospects for low-income food-deficit countries and countries highly dependent on agricultural exports.

SOFA 2000 is available in Arabic, English, French and Spanish and can be ordered by contacting FAO's Sales and Marketing Group, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy; by fax at +39 (06) 5705 3360; or by email at publications-sales@fao.org.

15 September 2000

Go to SOFA 2000
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