HAVANA, 24 April 2002 -- The Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO), Dr. Jacques Diouf, today launched an urgent appeal to countries participating in the 27th Regional Conference to redouble their efforts in the fight against hunger. He noted that at present 815 million people worldwide suffer from chronic malnutrition, and 54 million of them live in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In his address to the opening ceremony of the 27th Regional Conference, the FAO Director-General said that unless there are substantial improvements in reducing hunger and malnutrition, it will be impossible to make appreciable gains in other areas of the fight against poverty, such as health and education. On this matter, he said that the number of people in the Region who live in poverty totalled some 211 million.

In recalling that the FAO Conference was taking place in a global context of great economic, social and political change, Dr. Diouf said that agriculture has a strategic importance for the social and economic life of Latin American and Caribbean countries. However, he cautioned that in the last ten years, growth in the agricultural sector has been weak and erratic, reaching 2.7% in 2000, in comparison with 4.2% in 1999.

The Director-General underlined four FAO priorities for action in Latin America and the Caribbean. The first is food security, which comprises three principal dimensions: improving food production, guaranteeing everyone equal access to food and ensuring stability in access to food. To this end, FAO has reinforced its Special Programme for Food Security (PESA) by which it provides support not only to countries with a lack of food and low incomes, but also to others which have reached an intermediate stage of development

The second priority concerns international trade and seeks to help the countries in the Region to take better advantage of the opportunities arising from the Agreement on Agriculture of the Uruguay Round when, for the first time, basic agricultural products were included in multilateral trade negotiations. Dr. Diouf said that FAO was helping the countries in the Region to strengthen their negotiating capacity.

The third priority concerned the sustainable management of natural resources, because rapid environmental degradation is destroying many future opportunities. On this matter, the Director-General said that FAO was giving technical assistance to promote agricultural conservation techniques for families of small-scale producers, and is assisting in the creation of planning units for the use and management of natural resources in small water basins.

As for the fourth priority - rural development - FAO has been offering technical assistance aimed at institutional reform, with projects involving public expenditure, reform of local government and productive alliances, all of which contribute to improving the living conditions of rural people.

The FAO Director-General concluded his speech by saying that the participation of heads of State and government from all the countries in the Region at the upcoming "World Food Summit: five years later" was a great opportunity for them to express - at the highest political level - the viewpoints of one of the most important agricultural regions on the planet; thus contributing to the success of the Summit and, as a consequence, to the reduction of hunger in the world.