The way out of the global food crisis, which has plunged at least 75 million more humans into hunger and poverty, lies in increased agricultural production, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf told Italy’s Parliament today.
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf
© www.fao.org / W. Khoury
Diouf was testifying before the Foreign and Agricultural Committees of Italy’s Senate and Chamber of Deputies holding a joint hearing on the impact of higher food prices on food security.
FAO’s Food Price Index increased by 12 percent between 2005 and 2006, by 24 percent in 2007 and by some 50 percent up to July 2008, Diouf said. Although bumper cereals harvests were expected this year, prices were likely to stay high for several years, placing the world’s poorest countries at continued risk, he added.
“Before prices soared in 2007-2008, there were 850 million malnourished people in the world,” the Director-General noted. “But that figure jumped by 75 million in 2007 alone”.
FAO initiative on soaring prices
Diouf recalled that back in July 2007 FAO called for a High-Level Conference on Food Security and that, in December of last year, correctly anticipating the onset of a global crisis, it launched an Initiative on Soaring Food Prices (ISFP) aimed at helping the world’s poorest countries increase their food production.
Under the ISFP, FAO is helping provide quality seeds, fertilizers and other inputs to help poor farmers grow more for their families and communities over the next two seasons. A total of 79 countries have requested assistance under the scheme.
June High-Level Conference
Diouf spoke of the positive results of last June’s High-Level Conference on Food Security organized by FAO. The meeting was attended by 43 Heads of State and Government from 181 countries, by 5 000 delegates and by 1 350 journalists.
The solemn Declaration adopted by the Conference “reinstates agriculture and food security as a priority in world development and as a key component of the international political agenda,” Diouf said. “It comes after at least three decades when official assistance to agriculture kept sinking, from 17 percent in 1980 to three percent in 2006.”
Although not a pledging conference, funds promised by delegates for agricultural development before, during and after the High-Level Conference totalled US$23 billion, Diouf said.
Italian Government response
Diouf thanked the Italian Government for its prominent role in the fight against hunger and poverty.
In the last six years, he noted, Italy paid some 87 million euro into FAO’s Food Security Trust Fund, financing 29 projects in 41 countries plus 15 regional projects in the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) and another 15 in Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
“Italy’s contributions made it one of the largest contributors to the FAO’s Trust Funds in 2008,” Diouf said.
Diouf recalled that FAO is working with the G8 and the international community on creating a Global Partnership on Food and Agriculture. With Italy taking over the G8 Presidency next year, FAO has already made preliminary contact with Italian authorities on creating a world network of food and agriculture experts in order to assess future needs and risks.
“We are facing a challenge of enormous proportions,” Diouf said. “We must mobilize US$30 billion dollars a year in order to double food production so as to feed a world population of nine billion in 2050.”
The figure was a modest one, however, compared with the level of agricultural subsidies paid by OECD countries – US$376 billion in 2006 – and the US$1204 billion which the world spent on arms that year, he said.
“The time has come for the international community to unite in the face of the world food crisis,” Diouf concluded. “In this connection, as President of the G8 next year, Italy bears a historic responsibility”.
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