NICOSIA/ROME, 29 May 2002 -- Europe can do more and better: crop and livestock farmers and fishers in the less advanced countries must be helped by investment and technology transfer, Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said today in his address at the opening of the 23rd session of the FAO Regional Conference for Europe (29-31 May) in Nicosia (Cyprus).

"Assistance programmes for the developing countries, implemented in partnership with FAO are an ideal framework for such measures, which would confirm Europe's central role in ensuring stability and progress worldwide," he added.

The FAO Director-General emphasised the three fundamental food security issues to be addressed in Nicosia: preparations for the World Food Summit: five years later, food safety, and Europe's desertification problems.

Commenting on preparations for the World Food Summit: five years later to be held in Rome from 10 to 13 June 2002, the FAO Director-General said: "It is essential to strengthen and coordinate the political will at the highest level, and mobilise the necessary financial resources." He added that "this makes it essential for the heads of state and government of the European region to attend in person, to ensure the success of the meeting."

Food safety and quality are a source of increasing concern throughout the world, and particularly in Europe where, as the Director-General emphasised, "In recent years a number of food safety-related problems have placed consumer health in jeopardy, and hampered trade both within the region and with other regions of the world."

Dr Diouf warmly welcomed "the pan-European food safety initiative" proposed by the Netherlands, which had made it possible to convene the recent Pan-European Conference whose main recommendations will be up for adoption at the FAO Regional Conference for Europe.

FAO's Director-General also raised the issue of desertification and land degradation, which has worsened considerably over the past decade in some parts of the European region. A number of recommendations will be submitted at the Nicosia conference for approval.

Mr Diouf then turned to the problem of food insecurity in Europe. In 1998, some 21 million people in the European countries with economies in transition were living on less than two dollars a day. During the past three years, however, a number of positive developments have helped to reduce poverty and food insecurity in the Central and Eastern European countries and in the four Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries considered to belong to the European Region. The first such factor was the political stability of the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Secondly, the 2001-2000 cash crop season yielded record harvests. Thirdly, the region as a whole has experienced three consecutive years of growth and the outlook for 2002 was also bright. It was thanks to these circumstances that it had been possible to gradually scale down food assistance to the region.