FAO Conference opens in Rome to set budget and review priorities

The FAO Conference, the top global gathering of ministers and senior officials on food and agriculture issues, and the main governing body of the Organization, opened its 29th session on 7 November 1997. Delegates from FAO's 175 member countries gathered at the Organization's headquarters in Rome for the beginning of the 11-day meeting. 

Member country delegates gather at FAO for the opening of the Conference 

Major items on the agenda include establishing the level of FAO's budget and its programme priorities for the next two years and a review of the state of food and agriculture, with statements from member countries about key achievements and concerns. The Conference will also review progress since the 1996 World Food Summit in reducing the number of chronically hungry people in the world. 

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf opened the Conference. Highlights during the opening days of the session include the awarding of three FAO prizes - the A.H. Boerma Award for journalists, the B.R. Sen Award for outstanding field experts, and the Edouard Saouma Award for field projects - as well as voting on Kazakstan's application for membership. 

Kazakstan covers over 2 700 000 square kilometres of Central Asian steppe and has a population of about 17 million. The country is rich in mineral resources, including oil and natural gas. Some 60 minerals are produced. Livestock production is mainly pastoral - including the famous Karakul sheep - and major crops include wheat, tobacco and cotton. The one major resource in short supply in Kazakstan is water. Drinking-water is pumped for miles to settlements, and irrigation in the southern area of the country has drastically reduced the resources of the Aral Sea, leaving vast areas of salt pan. 

FAO's Programme of Work and Budget, submitted to the Conference by the Director-General, outlines two funding levels - a zero real growth proposal of $675.3 million (which would include some additional funds to compensate for inflation) and a zero nominal growth budget of $650 million. Under the latter option, programme cuts would be necessary to offset increased costs. FAO has made efforts to protect the priority areas of its programme, including: 

Dr Diouf, introducing the proposed Programme of Work and Budget, said: "The next biennium should see FAO being fully active, together with a broad range of partners, in assisting Member Nations in the achievement of the World Food Summit commitments. Summit follow-up and the goal of sustainable food security for all were clearly among the prime movers in the design of the Programme of Work for 1998-99". 

A supplementary Conference issue of FAO's Food Outlook, giving the latest FAO estimates for total crop and livestock production, will be distributed during the Conference. First estimates of 1997 global agricultural production put expansion at 1.1 percent, a marked slowdown in production growth compared to 1996. The latest information on food aid in 1996/97 shows a sharp drop of 37 percent to 4.9 million tonnes - the lowest level since the start of food aid programmes in the 1950s. Official development assistance to agriculture also continued to decline for the eleventh year in a row. 

The Director-General said that efficiency savings would be continued in the Organization, but warned: "There is a limit to the extent and speed of progress that can be made following the major reduction exercise still under way in the current biennium." 

7 November 1997 

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