NICOSIA/ROME, 24 May 2002 -- Agriculture Ministers and high-ranking officials from 43 European member countries of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and a representative of the European Community will meet in Nicosia, Cyprus, from 29 to 31 May 2002, to review the state of agriculture and food security in the region.

The 23rd session of the FAO Regional Conference for Europe will be held in Nicosia, at the invitation of the Government of Cyprus. In addition to the state of food and agriculture, the Regional Conference will recommend measures to be taken in order to strengthen the fight against hunger and undernourishment in Europe.

The Conference will open Wednesday 29 May at 10.00 hours at the Forum Hotel, in the presence of the President of the Republic of Cyprus and FAO's Director-General. Discussion will focus on preparations for the World Food Summit: five years later, to be held at FAO headquarters in Rome from 10 to 13 June 2002. Two other important items for the European region will also be discussed: food safety and quality, following up on the Pan-European Conference on that subject which took place in Budapest last February, and the fight against desertification and land degradation following discussions held last March at the 32nd session of the European Commission on Agriculture.

Of the 9.5 million undernourished people living in FAO member countries in the European region with economies in transition, nearly 60 percent live in 4 countries: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova. Another third are located in the Balkan countries. The principal causes of food insecurity in this part of Europe are armed conflicts, poverty, natural disasters, a lack of food safety and the breakdown of social safety nets.

The FAO Regional Conference for Europe will be preceded by an NGO forum attended by farmers' unions, consumers' associations, environmental organizations and international solidarity groups. The NGO forum will also be held at the Hotel Forum on 26 and 27 May 2002 and will focus on the same issues that will be considered by the Conference.