Strategic investments in water, agriculture and ecosystems needed to reduce hunger and poverty
FAO's message to conference on water for food and ecosystems in The Hague
31 January 2005, The Hague -- Investments in agriculture and ecosystems in poor countries are essential to reduce by half the number of hungry people by 2015, FAO Deputy Director-General David Harcharik said today in The Hague.
Strategic investments in rainfed and irrigated agriculture are urgently needed to produce more 'crop per drop' in countries suffering from hunger and malnutrition, Mr Harcharik said in a keynote speech delivered on behalf of FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf at the FAO/Netherlands International Conference on Water for Food and Ecosystems in The Hague.
According to FAO's latest estimates, around 852 million people worldwide were suffering from chronic hunger and undernourishment in 2000-2002.
More than 30 ministers and around 500 delegates from 140 countries are attending the meeting in The Hague (31/1-04/2/2005).
"Water, food and ecosystems are three aspects of our global wellbeing that are so tightly bound that they have become critical for livelihoods, sustainable development and for political stability," Mr Harcharik said. "These aspects deserve more attention than we currently devote to their description and understanding."
Investments in raising water productivity for staple foods or high value market crops should not irreparably degrade precious water resources and related ecosystems, he said.
Investments should also take unique and complex ecosystems into account, which are crucial for biodiversity, fisheries, tourism, agriculture, livestock and forest products.
Investments in agriculture need to be directed to "higher, value-added diversification that is well adapted to local resource limits," Mr Harcharik said.
"In Africa, for instance, more emphasis needs to be given to diversifying strategies towards rainfed mixed crop and farming systems and water harvesting, alongside irrigated agriculture. In Asia, the strong tradition of landscape moulding and hydraulic control can be diversified with improved aquaculture and biodiversity," he said.
More emphasis should be given to combining ecosystems management with livelihoods sustained directly from products and services provided by these ecosystems. Mr Harcharik called for strategic and sustainable water for food and ecosystem development plans to achieve a balance between natural ecosystems and agricultural production functions in river basins.
"It is important that the status and inherent productivity of natural ecosystems is conserved, that they are allowed to breathe as much as possible, bearing in mind the inevitable pressures on land and water resulting from population and income growth," Mr Harcharik said.
Agriculture and natural ecosystems are by far the biggest consumers of the earth's freshwater and the competition between the two sectors for often scarce water resources is increasing.
"Reconciling these competing claims on our natural resource heritage and achieving a balance between natural ecosystem and agricultural production within our river basins will be critical," Mr Harcharik added.
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