JOHANNESBURG/ROME, 27 August 2002 - As long as millions of people are still suffering from chronic hunger and extreme poverty, there cannot be sustainable development, FAO Assistant Director-General, Hartwig de Haen said in a statement distributed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.

"The poor are certainly not responsible for the bulk of resource depletion and environmental degradation. However, they suffer most from it. Poor farmers care deeply for the limited resources on which they depend. Due to lack of sufficient access to land, water and appropriate technologies their actions are dominated by the struggle to survive," de Haen said.

More than 70 percent of the poor in developing countries live in rural areas and depend mostly on agriculture for their livelihoods.

FAO endorsed the Action Plan for Agriculture, identified as one of the five priority areas for action in the UN Secretary General's so-called WEHAB Initiative. The other areas are Water, Energy, Health and Biodiversity.

"Sustainable agriculture and rural development are the basis for success in fighting hunger and poverty," de Haen said. "Extreme poverty, low agricultural productivity and resource degradation may form a vicious circle. This circle must be broken if we are to achieve the international community's commitment to halve hunger and extreme poverty by 2015."

Agriculture has a significant impact on natural resources and the environment. It accounts for 70 percent of fresh water use, and nearly 40 percent of land use. It is both a source and a sink of greenhouse gas emissions. Agricultural practices can enhance or reduce plant and animal genetic diversity, depending on the choices made. But it is also a key sector for poverty and hunger reduction.

FAO projects world demand for food to increase by 60 percent by 2030. Most of the additional demand and production is expected to originate in the developing countries. FAO anticipates that close to 20 percent of the additional production will come from an expansion of land, 10 percent from more frequent harvests per year and 70 percent from higher yields.

The projected increase in agricultural land use amounts to 120 million hectares, mainly in Africa and Latin America. "The possible encroachment into ecologically sensitive lands is still a major concern. The projected 20 percent increase in irrigated area is another challenge. Given the already high share of agriculture in total fresh water use, this expansion must largely come from water savings through efficient gains in current agricultural water use."

"The fundamental task is to realize the projected yield increases with minimum negative impact on the environment. In other words: we need sustainable intensification. More research is certainly needed. However, sustainable intensification of agriculture can be achieved by using and improving already existing technologies," de Haen said. "Integrated pest management can reduce pesticide use substantially, integrated plant nutrition systems can reduce fertiliser needs by 10 to 30 percent, and conservation agriculture can raise crop yields by 20-50 percent while sequestering 200-400 kg of carbon per hectare per year."

"Biotechnology holds potential for increases in productivity in a sustainable manner but requires case by case assessment of possible risks to human health and the environment."

FAO said that political will, concrete commitment and involvement of all stakeholders was essential to achieve the twin goals of halving hunger and sustainable resource management. The five priority areas of the WEHAB framework for action on agriculture draw to a great extent on the FAO Anti-Hunger Programme. This programme was first presented to the 'World Food Summit: five years later' in June and has been revised now for the WSSD.

FAO estimates that reducing the number of hungry people by half, which the Programme is expected to achieve,would bring about annual benefits in the order of US$120 billion as a result of longer, healthier and more productive lives. This would be to the advantage of poor and rich countries alike.

Mobilising the resources needed for the agriculture and rural development components of the Anti-Hunger Programme and the WEHAB priority actions for agriculture was not an unreasonable prospect, de Haen said. Excluding financing through credits, it would require roughly US$16 billion annually. This could be equally shared by developed and developing countries, according to FAO.

"For the developed countries, the amount of US$8 billion is less than they transfer to their own agriculture every 10 days," de Haen said. "The developing countries would have to increase their national budgets for agriculture on average by 20 percent."