Press Release 01/89
FAO TELLS WTO MEETING: AGRICULTURAL TRADE REFORM MUST CONSIDER THE PLIGHT OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES WHERE CHRONIC UNDERNOURISHMENT IS AN EXTREME MANIFESTATION OF POVERTY
Doha, 11 November 2001 - Calling chronic undernourishment "an extreme manifestation of poverty," the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called on the international community to incorporate specific provisions aimed at improving agricultural productivity and competitiveness in developing countries in the proposed agricultural reform process. The appeal came in a prepared statement for delivery at the 4th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), by FAO Assistant Director-General Hartwig de Haen, Economic and Social Department.
FAO said that small and resource-poor farmers and farm laborers need measures to protect them from the adverse consequences of temporary import surges. Measures are also required to provide improved access for agricultural exports from developing countries.
FAO's primary goal is "to achieve food security for all, which the Organization says exists only when all people, at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life." While there has been some progress in reducing the absolute number of hungry people in the world, Mr. de Haen noted that it not happening fast enough to achieve the 1996 World Food Summit target of halving the number of hungry people by 2015. FAO said that current negotiations on agriculture should recognize the importance of achieving food security for all.
According to FAO's latest estimates the rate of reduction of hungry people in the developing world has slowed to approximately 6 million people a year, against a needed rate of reduction of some 20 million people a year to reach the target and the gap is widening. At the current rate, it would take more than 60 years to reach the target, Mr. de Haen said.
FAO says that agricultural development is the key to poverty reduction and food security in developing countries. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for 60 to 70 percent of the population in the developing world. Agriculture is often undervalued in policy setting, FAO says. Particularly, its actual and potential contributions to a number of essential public goods are overlooked, and the importance of sustainable agriculture and rural development is insufficiently recognized.
The under-provision of public goods in comparison with what society desires is exacerbating the current problems of rural poverty, food insecurity, environmental degradation, uncontrolled rural-urban migration and social instability that most developing countries are facing, said Mr. de Haen.
A recent FAO study clearly shows the importance of economic growth and investment in agriculture as determinants of success in improving food security. More than two thirds of the poor live in rural areas. Countries that succeed in using trade to enhance agricultural and rural development are likely to succeed in reducing food insecurity, said Mr. de Haen. The 1996 World Food Summit also recognized that trade is a key element among factors contributing to global food security. Agricultural trade and a rules-based multilateral trading system are among the essential instruments for promoting agricultural development, food security and poverty alleviation.
Mr de Haen said the opportunity offered at the WTO meeting in Doha, to embark upon further reform of the regulatory framework governing international agricultural trade, must take account of the imperatives posed by the millions of hungry people worldwide. Policy directions that are supportive of poverty alleviation and food security for all must be pursued.
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