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Statement of the Director-General

Your Highness Sheikh Abdalla Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Prime Minister of Qatar,
Distinguished Ministers,
Honorable Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to the Twenty-Seventh FAO Regional Conference for the Near East which is being held here in Doha at the kind invitation of the Government of Qatar. On behalf of the Organization and in the name of all of you, I should like to express our profound gratitude to His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani and his Government for their warm welcome and hospitality.

Your Highness,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

(State of food and agriculture in the world)

During the first half of the 1990s, the number of hungry people in the world declined by 37 million. In contrast, during the second half of the decade, it increased by 18 million. Positive achievements in many counties were countered by setbacks in many others. In 1999-2001, there were 842 million undernourished people in the world, including 798 million in the developing countries, 34 million in the countries in transition and 10 million in the industrialized countries. At this rate, the World Food Summit’s objective of halving the number of hungry people by 2015 will only be achieved in 2150.

In 2003, world cereal utilization totalled some 1970 million tonnes, exceeding production by 100 million tonnes.

The prices of many export commodities from developing countries are now lower than ever. Moreover, 43 countries earn more than 20 percent of their total export revenue and more than 50 percent of their total agricultural revenue from just one commodity.

After the failure of the Cancun Ministerial Conference, negotiations have resumed following the meeting of the WTO General Council in December 2003. Commitment to achieving the Doha Development Agenda for the agricultural sector was confirmed at the Round Table on this subject held during the 32nd Session of the FAO Conference because fair trading policy is essential for rural development and food security. In this context, the role of FAO’s Committee on Commodity Problems is more important than ever. It is with this in mind that I wish to invite representatives of the ministries of trade to the next session of this Committee in February 2005.

At constant 1995 prices, external aid to agricultural development fell from US$27 billion to between US$10 and 15 billion during the 1990s, whereas the amount should be doubled and agriculture’s share of national budgets should be increased if there is to be accelerated progress in reducing undernourishment.

(Roundtables on financing for agricultural development)

It is to mobilize such financial resources that FAO has decided to organize, with the regional development banks, round tables on financing for agriculture alongside each of its 2004 Regional Conferences in the developing regions.

(World Food Summit: five years later)

During the June 2002 World Food Summit: five years later held in Rome, the Heads of State and Government resolved to hasten implementation of the Summit’s Plan of Action and called for an International Alliance Against Hunger.

National alliances are thus being formed in member countries to mobilize governments, parliaments, NGOs, civil society, the private sector and agricultural organizations.


The developing countries need to take up the challenge of agricultural productivity and market competitiveness to improve their food security.

Soil is currently under accelerated degradation, affecting 21 million hectares of arable land. In the arid and semi-arid areas that cover 45 percent of the world’s land surface, the integrated management of land, water and fertilizer can significantly mitigate this situation.

Urban and peri-urban agriculture and home and school micro-gardens would help rapidly improve the nutritional status of poor population groups with relatively modest levels of investment. FAO has undertaken such projects in all regions of the world, notably with Technical Cooperation Programme resources and TeleFood funds.

Livestock sustains some 800 millions rural poor and meets 30 to 40 percent of total food requirements.

Transboundary animal diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease, haemorrhagic fever, Rift Valley fever, swine fever, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and avian influenza, are sources of concern for trade and public health. Yet, real progress has been made in this domain. The battle against old and new epidemics is a major challenge that FAO and its partners are striving to meet under the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES).

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources has already been ratified by 34 countries. It will come into force when this number reaches 40 countries, probably during the first half of 2004.


A ministerial meeting on forestry will be convened in Rome in 2005 to study the recommendations of the Regional Commissions and to make strategic decisions on the future of the sector, especially to strengthen measures against forest fires.


In the fisheries sector, almost 10 percent of the world’s fish stocks are depleted and 18 percent are overexploited, mainly because of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, more efficient new technologies and excess fishing capacity. The situation is aggravated by the absence of monitoring and surveillance of vessels, employing satellite transponder technology in particular.

FAO will therefore be convening a meeting of Fisheries Ministers at its headquarters in 2005 to give renewed impetus to the actions that are needed in this sector.

(Sustainable agricultural development)

As regards sustainable agriculture and rural development, FAO is formulating a four-year project for mountain regions.

The International Conference of Small Island Developing States will be held in Mauritius in August 2004. FAO is actively involved in this initiative and will organize a Ministerial Conference on the Development of Agriculture in Small Island States in Rome in 2005.

Although women account for 60 percent of agricultural production in developing countries, they still have unequal access to productive resources. FAO is striving to tackle this problem, devising specific indicators for appropriate policies.

(Emergency situations)

At of end of 2003, 38 countries were faced with serious food shortages that required international assistance. Yet, food aid in cereals fell to 7.4 million tonnes in 2001-02, down 23 percent from 2000-01.

Eight million small farmers and agricultural workers died from HIV/AIDS between 1985 and 2000 in the 25 most affected countries. FAO is involved in the fight against this pandemic, conducting surveys of the impact on food security and developing agricultural production techniques that are less labour intensive.

Your Highness,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

(State of food and agriculture in the region)

The Near East is composed of countries that have diverse climatic conditions, varying resources and different levels of economic development. Nevertheless, the challenges they face share a number of similarities, which warrants a search for common solutions that can be adapted to specific country situations.

For the region as a whole, agriculture accounts for 13 percent of gross domestic product and employs 36 percent of the population, yet it only accounts for 3 percent of national budgets which should reach at least 5 percent in the next five years.

In 2002 and 2003 the region experienced several conflicts that increased the number of internally displaced persons and refugees, with a direct negative impact on agricultural production, food security and the environment. The oil producing countries were affected by unstable oil prices, while other countries were faced with a fall in remittances from their nationals working abroad, a drop in revenue from tourism and a lower level of external assistance.

Some 15 percent of the region’s total population are undernourished. This is among the lowest figures for developing regions but it conceals large differences between countries. While the situation is worrying as the proportion of undernourished in the region has not fallen since 1990-92, some countries have already achieved the World Food Summit target. I am convinced that the region as a whole can also reach this target in 2015 if it redoubles its efforts.

Scarcity of water constitutes the most formidable challenge for agriculture in the region. Sixteen countries have less than 500 cubic meters of water from internal renewable water resources per capita per year, as against an average of 6000 cubic meters in the developing countries. Present over consumption and deterioration of water resources, coupled with growing competition from non-agricultural uses, are expected to influence the availability and cost of water used for food production. Furthermore, almost all the countries of the region are experiencing problems of salinity and water logging.

Degradation of natural resources is especially serious in the low-rainfall areas that represent 70 percent of the region’s total land area. Demographic pressure, the cultivation of marginal and fragile lands and the inappropriate use of inputs have all contributed to ecosystem degradation.

The 2002/03 season was nevertheless satisfactory because of favourable climatic conditions. Agricultural output grew 2.5 percent as compared to the negative annual growth of the preceding three years which was due to the severe drought that affected much of the region.

The long-term trend for per capita food production in the region suggests a slight improvement.

However, agricultural production falls short of burgeoning demand. Dependence on imports has intensified, in particular for cereals, dairy products, sugar and vegetable oil. The value of agricultural imports in 2002 was US$36.7 billion, which is 3.5 times the value of annual agricultural exports.

Net cereal imports rose from 6.5 million tonnes in 1960-71 to 55 million tonnes in 1999, and are projected to reach 78 million tonnes by 2010, which would represent half the total imports of all developing countries.

(Emergency and rehabilitation)

Six countries of the region faced major food crises in 2003 as a result of natural disasters or conflict situations.

Some countries also had to deal with an invasion of desert locusts. Despite control operations, swarms formed in many African countries and spread to Algeria, Morocco, southern Egypt, the northern Red Sea and Saudi Arabia.

(The Conference agenda)

Your Highness,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

(Follow-up to the World Food Summit)

The document on the follow-up to the World Food Summit and the World Food Summit: five years later focuses mainly on the Regional Programme for Food Security in the Near East. It also reports the outcome of the meeting of regional economic organizations that was held in June 2002 in Rome, with particular reference to the strategic vision and regional support to national efforts to alleviate hunger and poverty in rural areas.

(Water scarcity)

Your attention is drawn to the need to improve the management of water demand, notably for agriculture, the main user sector. Relevant in this connection are some of the recommendations of the Regional Conference on Water Demand Management which was held in Egypt in December 2003 as part of the International Year of Freshwater.

(Food safety and international trade)

Food safety and international trade in agricultural commodities are of primary importance to the countries of the region. Many countries have the necessary potential to expand their food exports but need to adjust their legislative and regulatory systems as well as their institutional capacity to adapt to international standards.

(Animal Health Commission for the Near East)

The Conference is invited to review a draft agreement on the creation of the Animal Health Commission for the Near East and North Africa, prior to submission to the Governments.

(Round Table on financing for agriculture)

For the first time, a Round Table was organized in parallel to the Conference and in cooperation with the Islamic Development Bank, on Financing Agriculture Development. It offered a forum for discussing investment in agricultural development projects and measures to bolster agriculture’s share of national budgets. The role of leading partners in financing agriculture and rural activities was also addressed.

(A look to the future and the major challenges for the Near East)

Your Highness,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Agriculture in the region is confronted with a number of challenges. I should like to draw particular attention to the need to ensure a more effective use of water. Mitigation of drought and monitoring of climate change are two of the additional measures needed to combat desertification.

Special attention needs to be given to access to land by nomadic pastoralists in the arid and semi-arid regions.

Reform to the banking system needs to be envisaged to provide farmers and small farmers, in particular, with adequate and timely access to credit so that they can acquire inputs, while at the same time safeguarding the viability of financing institutions and the recovery of loans.

Food marketing systems need to be upgraded, so that countries are in a position to reduce their post-harvest losses.

With proper leadership and the political will, the countries of the Near East can rise to these challenges. FAO will continue to support governments and regional partners in the implementation of coherent and effective programmes and in the mobilization of domestic and external sources of funding. It attaches a great deal of hope in its collaboration with the Arab League and the Regional Economic Unions for the preparation and implementation of a Regional Programme for Food Security.

I wish you every success in your work and thank you for your kind attention.

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