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For FAO, another busy year

2014 in review

Photo: ©FAO/Sergey Kozmin
The challenges of feeding a growing world population while making agriculture stayed high on the international agenda in 2014.
Family farming and nutrition in the spotlight

2014 was the International Year of Family Farming, and throughout the year FAO worked with our partners to keep the spotlight pinned on this critical player in the global food, nutrition and agriculture arena.

According to the 2014 edition of our annual State of Food and Agriculture report — which focused on the needs of family farmers — nine out of ten of the world's 570 million farms are managed by families and produce about 80 percent of our food.

FAO spent the year advocating for policies crafted to help them unlock their true potential. As the year winds down and we move forward, we will continue to work to galvanize concrete action in support of family farmers beyond 2014.

2014 also saw FAO rally global attention to the too-frequently-neglected issues of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies and obesity.

Some 2 billion people — 30 percent of the planet's population — suffer from micronutrient deficiencies or other effects of inadequate diet. Meanwhile, many poorer countries now labor under a "double burden" of obesity combined with hunger and poor nutrition.

To help get the global nutrition agenda back on track, FAO partnered with WHO to convene the first major global event on such issues in 20 years, the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition, which took place in Rome in late November.

At ICN2, Pope Francis urged world leaders to do more, and the event culminated with the adaptation by universal acclaim of a sweeping political commitment to do just that — "The Rome Declaration on Nutrition"— as well as a supporting framework for concrete action by 172 governments.

FAO is determined to take this new global momentum on nutrition forward into 2015 and beyond.

Progress in the hunger fight

2014 also saw the world make strides towards a future with zero hunger.

The year started off with African heads of state making a historic commitment to end chronic hunger on their continent by 2025.

Latin America also had its sights set on hunger eradication. In May governments from the region came together to review progress and bring to a successful conclusion their collective effort to wipe out hunger.

The region is close to its goal: FAO's annual regional analysis, published December 10, found that as a whole, Latin America and the Caribbean reduced hunger from 15.3 percent of its total population in 1990-91 to 6.1 percent in 2012-14. Fourteen countries have met the hunger target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) before the 2015 deadline, while four others have nearly achieved it.

Elsewhere, progress is being made as well. During 2014, FAO gave kudos to China, Ethiopia, Gabon, the Gambia, Iran, Kiribati, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, and the Philippines for reaching the MDG-1 hunger target, while Brazil, Chile Cameroon and Uruguay were recognized for having attained the more ambitious WFS target of halving the number of hungry by 2015.

Our annual State of Food Insecurity in the World report — released in October — confirmed a positive trend in hunger reduction, which has seen the number of hungry people decline globally by more than 100 million over the last decade and by 209 million since 1990-92.

Still, the report noted that 805 million people remained chronically undernourished in 2014 and much remains to be done.

Hotspots of food insecurity

Indeed, despite progress in reducing chronic hunger, conflict poor weather and the emergence of Ebola in West Africa contributed to food insecurity concerns in a number of countries and regions during 2014.

The emergence of the Ebola epidemic captured global attention — beyond the immediate human costs, the situation in affected countries has had serious implications for food security.

But other hunger hotspots posed cause for concern as well.

In the broader West African region of the Sahel, conflicts and recurring droughts continued to exacerbate food insecurity in 2014. To tackle recurring food insecurity in the region, in February the UN and humanitarian partners launched an ambitious three-year plan to support resilience over the longer-term by tackling the root causes of hunger.

In Somalia, late and erratic rainfall during spring and summer raised concerns regarding harvest prospects there. By September, over one million people were estimated to be at risk of acute food insecurity.

Violence in South Sudan contributed to widespread food insecurity in that troubled African nation during 2014, as FAO warned on numerous occasions. The Organization has been working with partners on the ground to deliver emergency livelihood kits containing crop and vegetable seeds, fishing equipment and livestock treatment kits and vaccines for veterinary support to help farming families stay afloat and support local food production.

Fighting and conflict in Syria and Iraq were also cause for concern during 2014, and FAO responded.

Finally, conflict in the Central African Republic had major implications for rural livelihoods, food production, and food security as widespread looting and insecurity took a heavy toll on cropping, animal-rearing and fishing activities. In March FAO, the World Bank, and the World Food Program agreed to implement a major program to support food aid and agriculture production as hostilities eased. As part of that effort, FAO began a large seed and tool distribution program in May to support crisis-hit farming families.

South-South cooperation breaks new ground

On the brighter side, 2014 saw the dawn of a new era in development cooperation between nations of the global South.

In February, governments from the Near East and Africa pledged enhanced cooperation to tackle issues of water management, food waste and building more resilient rural communities.

A month later, the new Africa Solidarity Trust Fund —an Africa-for-Africa development initiative aimed at eradicating hunger, reducing malnutrition and poverty — funded its first six projects.

In June, the FAO-managed fund gave the green light to four new, continent-spanning projects that will benefit 24 different African nations, and in December signed another three project agreements to support Ebola-hit countries, promote employment for rural youth, and advance South-South cooperation in Africa.

Later in the year, China took advantage of the occasion of World Food Day to announce a $50 million donation to FAO to support our work on South-South Cooperation.

And 2014 closed out with a major conference in Morocco which saw that northern African country team up with FAO to pledge both financial resources and technical know-how to support agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa.

High food prices drop, then level off

World food prices started out 2014 high, but steady and saw a rapid rise early in the year, partly due to tensions in the Black Sea region and poor weather in other places.

However by May the FAO food index began to drop, and that downward trend continued through August, which saw the index reach a four-year low. Since then, global food prices have remained broadly stable.

Resilience and recovery in the Philippines

Agricultural recovery in the Philippines following the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan was one of the stand-out success stories of 2014.

The typhoon struck between two planting seasons — damaging crops that were ready to harvest, harvested and newly planted. Around 1.1 million tonnes of standing crops were destroyed, primarily coconut, rice and corn. Infrastructure and production equipment such as storage, irrigation systems, boats and roads also suffered extensive damage. Damage to fisheries spanned the entire value chain from catch to market.

A rapid response effort to get farmers and fishers back on their feet was needed.

At the request of the government of the Philippines, within weeks of the disaster, FAO began distributing rice production packages in time for the December/January planting season, enabling farmers to bring in their first crop without skipping the season.

FAO's Director-General José Graziano da Silva travelled to the island nation to witness the damage and observe recovery efforts first-hand. In addition to rice farmers, fishers and coconut farmers also benefitted from FAO interventions.

Six months after the disaster hit, Philippine farmers began to bring in their rice harvest thanks to this effort.

Today, just over one year has passed since Typhoon Haiyan hit. A second rice harvest has come in, and farmers and fishers are well on the road to recovery and building more resilient livelihoods.

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