Did you know that...
• The annual budget of FAO equals the cost of six days of cat and dog food in nine industrialized countries and 5 per cent of the annual cost of diet products in one single industrialized country.
• Since 1975, some 75 per cent of cultivated plants have become extinct. Three species provide, on their own, 60 per cent of human food coming from vegetal sources.
• To fight against the spread of the so-called "mad cow" disease, FAO is drafting a code of conduct to regulate the contents of cattle feed.
• Tropical forests are decreasing by some 15 million hectares a year. They constitute, however, a very impor- tant reserve for biodiversity and provide a living for hundreds of millions of people. When correctly managed, they can yield an income twice as high as that produced by simple tree-cutting.
• African lakes and rivers yield more fish than the whole of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea.
• In Africa, women produce 80 per cent of basic foodstuffs.
Mesmer Zergabere, age 75, barely survives by cultivating rocky pieces of land near Asmara, the capital of Eritrea.He can only use three tiny and arid parcels that cover a total area of one hectare.
"My land does not produce enough to feed my wife and me"he says "It only provides food for six months of the year. I have to work at the tree nursery to earn the money needed to feed us the rest of the time." Mesmer works 11 hours a day and must walk six kilometers to get to work and come back. Doctor Madadi Reddy, FAO technical adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture of Eritrea states that " by using improved seeds an moderate quantities of fertilizers, and by managing the crops better, for example by sowing and weeding at the most appropriate time, one can double the yield" This is an interesting prospect for a country where food production usually does not exceed 40 per cent of the population's actual needs.
As 140 other farmers in the region of Geremi-Karneshim, Mesmer has received assistance from the special food security assistance scheme launched by FAO in 1994.
Corn and vegetables
Samuel Mono and Jane Kalyangile, his wife, are farmers in Kanchele, 70 kilometers from Kalomo, in southern Zambia.
"We had some terrible years" says Samuel. "Because of the drought, we lost three crops in a row. We were forced to sell all our cattle and most of our neighbours left the region to look for water. What has changed our life is, first, that we have diversified our crops. Previously, we only grew corn, but now we also plant vegetables. Also, the type of corn we now use grows faster and needs much less water. Finally, we have learnt to cultivate better. For instance, I used to sow at random behind the plow. Now, I sow in rows, which makes it easier to harvest and allows the plants to grow better."
Thirty farmers participate in this FAO experimental program launch-ed in 1995 in Kanchele. FAO provides technical and material assistance to the farmers. According to Chris Ndiyoyi, the coordinator of the special food security scheme for Zambia, "soon the farmers will no longer need us. They will even be able, in the very near future, to help their neighbours."
Rosemarie Master, 32, lives in San Diego, California. "It is true that I have always had a problem with food. First, I think that a lot of what we eat is dangerous : pesticides and fertilizers are, I am sure, carcinogenic. Also, I have always been afraid, since I was a teenager, of putting on weight. Maybe that is because there are quite a few people in my family who have a tendency to be plump. So, I am always careful. When I shop, I only buy natural and "light" or fat-free products. I don't really know what it means, but at least I don't feel too guilty when I eat."
FAO looks after the health of consumers. Together with the World Health Organization, it establishes criteria for foodstuffs. Thus, the food CODEX Commission, whose standards are recognized by the World Trade Organization, was the first to recommend at the international level that an expiry date be indicated on food products. It also sets norms with regard to additives and limits for residues of pesticides. For some pesticides, the Commission does not accept any trace at all. FAO also defines the criteria to determine what is a "low fat" product, which is actually a product with less than 3 per cent of fat content.
FAO in brief
Founded in 1945 in Quebec, Canada, FAO:
• Works to eradicate hunger and malnutrition and to raise the levels of nutrition; today, more than 800 million people, including 200 million children under five, suffer from chronic malnutrition;
• Assists its Member States in the sustainable development of their agricultural sector, including fisheries and forests, and to improve the preservation and distribution of agricultural products.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
Tel.: (39-6) 52251