Maintaining biodiversity is key to ending world hunger, UN official says

15 October 2004

Biodiversity is vital to the productive use of the world's marginal land, but agricultural production has lost about three-quarters of its genetic diversity in the past century, leaving the world dependent on a dozen crops and a barely larger number of animal species, the Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said today.

In a speech at a World Food Day ceremony in Rome, Mr. Diouf said FAO was raising the alarm about the situation in which "just 12 crops and 14 animal species now provide most of the world's food."

"For many rural families, the sustainable use of local biodiversity is their key to survival. It allows them to exploit marginal lands and ensure a minimum level of food production even when faced with extremely harsh conditions," he said. "Global food security depends not just on protecting the world's genetic resources, but also on ensuring that these resources remain available to all."

Preserving biodiversity should be a joint effort involving farmers, commercial plant breeders and the scientific community, he said.

FAO's International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture entered into force this year. It secures the conservation and sustainable utilization of the world's agricultural genetic diversity. It guarantees that farmers and breeders have access to needed genetic materials and ensures that farmers receive an equitable share of the benefits derived from their biodiversity work.

For the first time on a World Food Day, which is observed on 16 October, farmers from across the planet spoke about their experiences in enhancing biodiversity and increasing sustainable food production.

Mr. Diouf also introduced the newly appointed FAO Goodwill Ambassador, Italian ballerina Carla Fracci, director of the Balletto dell'Opera of Rome. FAO Goodwill Ambassadors help to focus global attention on devising ways to end hunger and poverty.

The UN World Food Programme's (WFP) Executive Director, James Morris, called attention to the enormous toll of hunger. "It is a shocking fact that now in the twenty-first century hunger is still claiming more lives than AIDS, TB and malaria combined. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), under-nourishment deprives the world of more productive life years than any other health risk."

Meanwhile, for every underfed child who made news headlines, millions more went unnoticed, he said.

"When was the last time we read about hungry people in Azerbaijan, Guinea, Sri Lanka or Tajikistan? Even in regions that regularly hit the television screens, the hungry do not merit a mention. In all the news coverage of the West Bank and Gaza, when did we last hear about hungry Palestinians?" Mr. Morris asked.

Solving these problems would take political will and determination, not just on World Food Day, but in the following days, weeks and years to come, he said.


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