Economic crisis threatens Europe’s progress on hunger – action needed

Agriculture helped 50 million in region out of poverty

13 May 2010, Rome - The Europe and Central Asia region has achieved striking success in fighting poverty and food insecurity over the last ten years, with agriculture playing a key role, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said today in his speech to the 27th FAO Regional Conference for Europe in Yerevan, Armenia.

But the international financial and economic crisis could threaten that process Diouf warned.

“The financial and economic crisis could adversely affect the progress and the significant improvement in living standards that have been achieved in the region in the last decade,” he said.

“FAO studies have shown that the crisis has weakened agriculture, particularly in the countries of Central and East Europe.”  In addition, World Bank estimates show that Europe and Central Asia is the region that has been hit hardest by the crisis, he noted.

The opening ceremony saw the participation of Armenia’s Minister of Agriculture, Gerasim Alaverdyan, who welcomed the delegations to the Conference.

Out of poverty

Since 1998, some 50 million people in the Europe and Central Asia region have succeeded in moving out of poverty – a striking example of success in fighting poverty and food insecurity, Diouf said.

“In Central Asia, the number of people suffering from hunger fell by 38 percent from 9.3 million in 2000-2002 to 5.8 million in 2004-2006... Agriculture has played a key role,” he noted.

History showed that “there is no more powerful engine for stimulating growth and eradicating hunger and poverty than investment in agriculture”, Diouf declared.

But sufficient financial resources were needed he said, noting that globally $44 billion a year of Official Development Assistance was required to finance modern inputs, rural infrastructures and technologies for the benefit of small farmers in poor countries.

Other regions

Investing in Europe and Central Asia could help resolve hunger in other regions of the world, Diouf  suggested. It was estimated that with sufficient investment, nearly 10 million hectares of arable land could be brought back into cultivation to grow grains and oilseeds in Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. 

Diouf, who on Tuesday launched a major international anti-hunger campaign, the “1billionhungry project”, to bring pressure on world leaders to pull a billion people out of hunger, said he was convinced that “together we can eliminate hunger from our planet.”

But, he added “for that we need to move forward from words to deeds and above all to do it quickly”.  

The Regional Conference, which lasts two days, was preceded by the 36th session of the European Commission on Agriculture (ECA).

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf