18/10/2004
Press Release
OBV/445
SAG/304


World Food Day Ceremony


Secretary-General says loss of biodiversity should raise ‘loudest of alarms’

 

in world food day message delivered by deputy Secretary-General


Presidents of General Assembly, Economic and Social Council,

Head of Food and Agriculture Organization Also Address Special Ceremony


(Issued on 19 October 2004.)


Biodiversity was essential to combating hunger and could ensure food security in crises caused by armed conflict, natural catastrophes or disabling diseases, and its unprecedented loss in the last century should raise the loudest of alarms, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said at Headquarters this afternoon during a special ceremony to mark the 2004 World Food Day.


Delivering a message from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, she said it should be unacceptable that some 840 million people worldwide suffered from chronic hunger.  The international community must do better politically, economically, scientifically, and logistically in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving that number by 2015.


Referring to the theme for this year’s observance -- “Biodiversity for Food Security” -- she said biodiversity provided plant, animal and microbial genetic resources for food production and agricultural productivity as well as essential ecosystem services, such as soil fertilization, nutrient recycling, pest and disease regulation, erosion control, and crop and tree pollination.  However, the global food supply had become increasingly dependent on a small number of species as many plant and animal species had become extinct.  A mere 30 crops species dominated food production and 90 per cent of the animal food supply came from just 14 mammal and bird species.


Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), reiterated the crucial importance of biodiversity, saying that an estimated three quarters of genetic diversity in agricultural crops had been lost in the last century.  That had reduced opportunities for agricultural growth and innovation as well as agriculture’s capacity to adapt to environmental changes like global warming, new pests and diseases.


However, small-scale farmers and herders continued to protect and increase the world’s stock of genetic resources as they had for centuries, he said.  They made an especially important contribution to food security.  Women also played a fundamental role in farming, particularly in the developing world, where they were responsible for the conservation and use of plant genetic resources.  In addition, the FAO was helping to create a Global Crop Diversity Trust to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to preserve agricultural biodiversity and maintain comprehensive gene banks.


Marjatta Rasi (Finland), President of the Economic and Social Council, noted that malnutrition was actually increasing in some countries.  There was a need for education, national and global policy-making as well as legal frameworks to enable local communities to protect ecological diversity, develop diversity-protection policies and determine the ownership and use of humanity’s genetic reservoir of knowledge.  Policies must also take into account the links between economy and ecology, society and environment, politics and long-term security.


General Assembly President Jean Ping (Gabon) said the occasion provided an opportunity to reflect on the millions of men, women and children facing hunger, most of whom lived in the rural areas of the developing world.  The first of the Millennium Development Goals was to halve the more than 800 million people who lived in hunger and poverty by 2015.  That objective could be met and the political will to accelerate efforts in alleviating the plight of those ensnared by hunger and poverty did exist, he stressed.


Representatives of the University of Guadajalara, Mexico, and FAO Goodwill Ambassador Mana -- a musical group -- also made statements via live video in support of FAO’s efforts worldwide to improve food security and shed light on Mexico’s food security needs and programmes.


Wrapping up the FAO-organized event, children from the United States and Mexico exchanged views via video on the value of different food crops in their respective countries.


Statements


JEAN PING (Gabon) President of the General Assembly, said World Food Day provided an opportunity to reflect on the millions of men, women and children worldwide facing hunger, most of them living in the rural areas of developing countries.  The day’s theme, “Biodiversity for Food Security”, would ensure that all people had access to nutritious food.  Biodiversity could curtail hunger and poverty in both the present and future, increasing food production, feeding the world and ensuring sustainable development.


Goal number one of the Millennium Development Goals was to halve the more than 800 million people living in hunger and poverty by 2015, he noted, adding that, the target could be met.  The political will existed to accelerate efforts in alleviating the plight of those ensnared by hunger and poverty.  He urged all people to redouble their efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger by protecting and preserving biodiversity as a pillar for a world without hunger.


MARJATTA RASI (Finland), President of the Economic and Social Council, said despite progress in many countries toward achieving the Millennium Goal of halving the number of people suffering from hunger by 2015, less than 20 per cent of sub-Saharan African countries would meet that target.  Malnutrition was increasing in some countries.


The interaction of biodiversity and food security was complex, she said.  Education, national and global policy-making and legal frameworks were needed for local communities to protect ecological diversity, develop diversity protection policies and determine the ownership and use of humanity’s genetic reservoir of knowledge.  Men and women played different roles in the maintenance of dependence on biodiversity.  Biodiversity decreased farming risks, increased food security and improved the genetic potential of crops and animals.  Safeguarding biodiversity also meant safeguarding traditional agricultural knowledge and management systems.  Policy-makers and implementers must develop long-term thinking that took into account the links between economy and ecology, society and environment, politics and long-term security.


LOUISE FRÉCHETTE, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, delivering a message from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, noted that some 840 million people in the world suffered from chronic hunger, which should be unacceptable in today’s world of plenty.  The international community must do better -- politically, economically, scientifically, and logistically -- to reduce by half the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 2015.


She said that this year’s World Food Day theme highlighted the essential role of biodiversity in combating hunger.  Biodiversity provided the plant, animal and microbial genetic resources for food production and agricultural productivity.  It provided essential ecosystem services, such as fertilizing the soil, recycling nutrients, regulating pests and disease, controlling erosion and pollinating many crops and trees.  Knowledge of biodiversity could ensure the availability of food during crisis periods like civil conflict, natural catastrophes or disabling diseases.


The unprecedented loss of biodiversity over the past century should raise the loudest of alarms, she said.  Several freshwater fish species had become extinct, and many of the world’s most important marine fisheries had been decimated.  Food supplies had also been made more vulnerable by the reliance on a small number of species.  Just 30 crops species dominated food production and 90 per cent of the animal food supply came from just 14 mammal and bird species.  There had been a substantial reduction in crop genetic diversity in the field and many livestock breeds were threatened with extinction.  Individuals and institutions alike must pay greater attention to biodiversity as a key theme in efforts to fight the twin scourges of hunger and poverty.


JACQUES DIOUF, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that an estimated three quarters of genetic diversity in agricultural crops had been lost in the last century, making the global food supply more vulnerable, decreasing opportunities for agricultural growth and innovation and, reducing agriculture’s capacity to adapt to environmental changes like global warming, new pests and diseases.  As they had for centuries, small-scale farmers and herders continued to protect and increase the world’s stock of genetic resources, making an especially important contribution to food security, which depended on agricultural products that often came from elsewhere.  Women played a fundamental role in farming, particularly in the developing world where they were responsible for the conservation and use of plant genetic resources.


He said that the Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which entered into force in 29 June, secured the conservation and sustainable use of the world’s agricultural genetic diversity, guaranteed farmers and breeders access to necessary genetic materials and ensured farmers a fair and equitable share of benefits derived from their work.  The FAO was helping to create a Global Crop Diversity Trust to strengthen developing countries’ capacity to preserve agricultural biodiversity and maintain comprehensive gene banks.  Animal genetic diversity was rapidly eroding and out of 6,300 known animal breeds, 1,350 were endangered or already extinct.  Forest cover was disappearing at an alarming rate, while marine biodiversity was being threatened by overfishing, environmentally damaging fishing practices, the introduction of alien species and habitat destruction.


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