Today, agriculture has contributed to human civilization by improving nutrition and living standards. It has ensured the production and distribution of agricultural, fishery and forestry products and enough food to feed everyone on this planet.
Despite the progress achieved in agriculture and rural development, more than 850 million people still remain hungry and poor. Our greatest challenge is to reach the World Food Summit and first UN Millennium Development Goal to halve by 2015 hunger and poverty worldwide.
The theme chosen for World Food Day and TeleFood this year is "Investing in agriculture for food security" so that "the whole world will profit." The aim is to highlight the role of investment in agriculture - both public and private. Action should be supported to improve rural livelihoods by reversing the decline of public investment in agriculture over the last two decades.
Seventy percent of the world's hungry live in rural areas. That is where it is most critical to provide food and employment. The seed planted by a farmer leads to a flourishing agribusinesses that pay taxes, and help build rural schools and roads. Agricultural development is the first step of a long-term sustainable economic growth. Everyone gains from investment in agriculture.
Since 1964, FAO has been a key player in the UN system in the mobilization of international and domestic financing for agriculture in favour of developing countries and countries in transition. Through its cooperation with financing agencies, FAO has helped 165 member countries to obtain funding for almost 1 600 agricultural and rural investment programmes and projects. That represents funding commitments of over US$80 billion!
The challenge of increasing investment in agriculture is especially great in Africa. Governments in that region have recognized the urgency of committing their own resources to agriculture. In the "Maputo Declaration" in 2003, African Heads of State committed their governments to allocating 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture and rural development within five years, thus doubling the present level of resources. Recently there has been a significant revival in lending for agriculture. Debt forgiveness programmes, strengthened by the G-8 decision in 2005, have begun to release national resources for investment in the sector. But much still remains to be done and innovative actions are welcome.
Increasing the volume of public investment in agriculture is of absolute necessity and it is crucial to make such assistance more effective. One major mechanism is the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development, a consortium of 26 donor development agencies, which FAO co-chairs with Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The platform seeks to improve donor aid effectiveness and focus action on achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
While increased development assistance, public investment and debt relief are key elements, equal importance should be given to private sector investment. Commercial farmers, traders, input suppliers, agro-processors and transnational agribusinesses all contribute to a global system of investment that can help rural people reap profits from agricultural production, marketing and trade. But, importantly, let us not forget that small farmers themselves are the biggest investors in agriculture.
"Promoting profitable partnerships" is the new model for cooperation between the public and private sectors. This means finding new ways of bringing together producers - small farmers and cooperatives - with agribusiness and governments to create profitable ventures. It places primary responsibility on governments to create stable socio-political conditions, establish legal frameworks for access to land and water, enforce grades and standards, foster a better climate for private investment and provide essential rural infrastructure. On this World Food Day, let us resolve together to increase the investment in agriculture so that the whole world may profit.