The key to long-term food security lies in boosting investment in agriculture, particularly in low-income food-deficit countries, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said today.
Rising food prices are a serious problem in countries, like the Gulf nations, which are highly dependent on food imports.
The rapid increase in hunger and malnourishment since the food crisis of 2008 reveals the inadequacy of the present global food system and the urgent need for structural changes, Diouf said, addressing the Gulf Cooporation Council (GCC) Ministerial Forum on Agricultural Investment in Abu Dhabi, attended by representatives of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the host country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
"The food price and economic crises have had a severe impact on millions of people in all parts of the world," he said. In recent months the international prices of most agricultural commodities have increased, many of them sharply. The global food import bill could pass the one trillion dollar mark in 2010, a level not seen since food prices peaked at record levels in 2008.
"These trends — Diouf said — can have severe implications for countries like the Gulf countries, which depend on commercial imports for a large share of their food consumption needs".
In the Near East and North Africa region, the number of hungry and malnourished people currently is estimated at 37 million, nearly 10 percent of the region's population.
Structural changes a must
Structural changes can improve food security, Diouf said. In the short term, this means targeted safety nets and social protection programmes as well as reliable and timely information on food commodity markets. Small-scale farmers must be assured access to indispensable means of production and technologies — such as high-quality seeds, fertilizers, feed and farming tools and equipment.
In the medium and longer terms, however, investment in agriculture is the answer. Food-deficit countries must be given the necessary technical and financial solutions and policy tools to enhance their agricultural sectors in terms of productivity and resilience in the face of crises.
New Extraordinary Ambassador
The Director-General also named Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, known in the United Arab Emirates as the Mother of the Nation, as Extraordinary Ambassador of FAO.
Sheikha Fatima is the wife of the founder and the first President of UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and has played "a pivotal role in consolidating and promoting the women's rights movement in the Arab world", Diouf said.
He noted her roles as chairperson of the UAE Family Development Foundation, the Chairwoman of the UAE General Women's Union and the President of the UAE's Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood and commended her "enlighting, pioneering thinking about women".
Sheikha Fatima has been active in the fields of literacy, maternal and child care, the disabled, the elderly and orphans and is, Diouf said, an "exceptional human being".
International multi-media conference centre announced
The FAO Director-General and Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad, UAE Minister of Environment and Water announced the establishment of the UAE-financed "Sheikh Zayed Centre" at FAO headquarters in Rome.
The new structure, an international multi-media conference centre that will be located inside FAO headquarters in Rome, will provide the live broadcasting facilities and capacity-building infrastructures necessary to continue the fight against hunger and to enhance knowledge sharing and e-learning throughout the organization, Diouf said during a signing ceremony.
The centre will be named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE and father of the country's current president.
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