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FAO chief calls for fairer world trading system, national targets to cut hunger

FAO chief calls for fairer world trading system, national targets to cut hunger

The head of the United Nations food agency told European legislators today that national parliaments had an important role to play in reducing the severe distortions in global agricultural markets and establishing a more equitable international trading system for farmers.

The remarks by Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), came in a keynote speech to the Heads of Parliamentary Committees of European Union Member States, European Union Accession countries and the Russian Duma, which were meeting on "The Responsibilities of Parliaments for World Nutrition."

"In addition to the 815 million people chronically suffering from hunger, the world is currently facing more than 30 severe food emergencies that are affecting more than 50 million people," the FAO Director-General said. "Unfortunately, a rising share of these emergencies is man-made and therefore avoidable."

He noted that progress towards the target set by the 1996 World Food Summit of reducing the numbers of the world's hungry by half by 2015 was much too slow. "If the present trends continue, it will take 60 years to achieve the WFS target to bring down the number of undernourished to about 400 million," he said.

The two main factors contributing to this situation were a lack of political will at both the national and international level, combined with insufficient mobilization of resources, Dr. Diouf said, noting that Official Development Assistance, and particularly the share of agriculture in it, continued to decline.

On the question of international trading arrangements, the FAO Director-General said a level playing field for agriculture was imperative if "food-insecure" countries were to benefit fully from trade and advocated significant reductions in subsidies going to farmers in rich countries. In 1999, the European countries spent $356 billion in support of agriculture, more than the combined GDP of all the developing countries of sub-Saharan Africa, he noted.

"To put things in perspective, while each OECD farmer received $11,000 of support, an agricultural farm worker in a developing country received a mere $4.30 of ODA that year," Dr. Diouf said. "Poor farmers in poor countries cannot compete with the treasuries of the world's richest countries. Subsidies by some undermine the incentives to invest for others."