1 December 2003, Rome - "More financial resources from development partners are essential to meet the challenges of the new century," FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf today told agriculture ministers and senior officials from 187 FAO Member States and the European Community gathered at the 32nd session of the Organization's governing Conference.

"Resentment against undernourishment and poverty breeds extremist action that can sometimes lead to crime and threaten national stability," FAO Director-General said. "It is therefore in the interest of everyone, rich and poor alike, to combat hunger, injustice and exclusion."

Stressing the need to mobilize the political will of national decision-makers, the energy of civil society and bilateral and multilateral resources, Dr. Diouf said "the existence of hunger in a world of plenty is not just a moral outrage, it is also the result of short-sighted economic policy."

Major challenges for FAO detailed by Dr. Diouf include:
  • protection of biodiversity and natural resources;
  • stabilization and growth of agricultural production;
  • sustainable agricultural and rural development;
  • improving food consumption in a global trade environment;
  • protection of consumers;
  • mitigation of HIV/AIDS impact;
  • preparations for the International Year of Rice-2004;
  • food security for at least 245 million people living in mountain ecosystems;
  • improving coordination and integration within the UN System.

"There can be no reduction in hunger and poverty without sustainable agricultural and rural development that provides income and work," Dr. Diouf said.

About 70 percent of the world's poor live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agriculture gives work to 40 percent of the population in developing countries, that is 2.5 billion people.

Dr. Diouf indicated that FAO seeks increased cooperation with governments, development partners and financial institutions to secure the necessary investments for sustainable agricultural and rural development.

FAO is coordinating the activities of the programme of action for Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development (SARD) that was adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 and reaffirmed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, in 2002.

Regarding HIV/AIDS, FAO Director-General said cooperation with the UNAIDS programme will continue to identify the agricultural dimension of the epidemic and related measures needed in FAO's programmes and projects.

According to UN figures, some 8 million agricultural workers have died from AIDS since 1985 and another 16 million could die from the disease by 2020.

Hunger figures

"In 1999-2001, there were 842 million undernourished people in the world, including 798 million in the developing countries, 34 million in the countries in transition, and 11 million in the developed countries," Dr. Diouf indicated.

"While in the last ten years the number of hungry people has fallen by more than 80 million in 19 developing countries, it has regrettably increased in many others."

At world level, the number of undernourished people only fell by 19 million between 1990-1992 and 1999-2001. Therefore, in order to reach the goal of the 1996 World Food Summit of reducing the number of undernourished people by half by 2015, "the annual reduction
rate will need to be raised to 26 million - more than 12 times the present rate of 2.1 million,"Dr. Diouf said.

Recalling that 65 to 80 percent of food emergencies are caused by drought and flooding, FAO Director-General stressed the importance of small water harvesting, irrigation and drainage works in developing countries, especially in Africa and the Caribbean.

Dr. Diouf also said that FAO's Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) launched in 1995 has so far mobilized almost US$548 million, with more than half coming from the national budgets of developing countries. Today, 89 countries are participating in the SPFS.

Reform of FAO and Budget

The reform of FAO which began in 1994 has led to a 30 percent reduction in staff and, as a result of decentralization, FAO is represented today in 131 Member Nations, compared to 106 in 1994, Dr. Diouf indicated.

Regarding the Organization's Programme of Work and Budget for the biennium 2004-2005, which will be decided by Conference, Dr. Diouf warned against further reductions.

"FAO's budget was reduced in 1996-1997 and has never increased in real terms since. Its present budget of $651.8 million for 187 Member States is $21.4 million less than the 1994-1995 budget when the Organization only had 169 Members. Cumulative inflation in Italy during this period has reached 35 percent," FAO Director-General noted.

Three proposals have been put forward for the Programme of Work and Budget 2004-2005. The first is premised on real growth of 5.5 percent above the current approved budget. The second envisages a zero real growth scenario which Dr. Diouf called an elegant way of proposing a budget freeze. And the third is a zero nominal growth, a budget reduction in real terms of $35.2 million in 2004-2005.

Under the last scenario, Dr. Diouf said the consequences will not be limited to reductions in overall expenditure on fisheries and forestry programmes but will also entail a loss of almost 160 posts across the Organization, rising to 650 in the absence of a split assessment of contributions in two currencies: US dollar and Euro.

Pierre Antonios
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53473