Biodiversity losses threaten world's 900 million rural poor, UN says

Louise Fréchette

18 October 2004 – An unprecedented loss of biodiversity has reduced the amount of food available to the world's 900 million rural poor and should receive widespread attention, UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said today.

"Given the growing interdependence among countries and expanding trade in agricultural goods and services, maintaining biodiversity for food security is as much a global priority as a local one," she said at a commemoration in New York of World Food Day.

"Many freshwater fish species, which can provide crucial dietary diversity to the poorest households, have become extinct, and many of the world's most important fisheries have been decimated," Ms. Fréchette noted.

She pointed out that biodiversity is key to fertilizing soil, recycling nutrients, regulating pests and diseases, controlling erosion and pollinating many of crops and trees,.

"And it is knowledge of biodiversity - notably by farmers responsible for their families' health and well-being - that can ensure food availability during periods of crisis, such as civil conflicts, natural calamities, or disabling diseases," she said.

World Food Day takes place annually on 16 October, the day on which FAO was founded in 1945 in Quebec City, and was observed at FAO headquarters in Rome last Friday.

In Africa's Great Lakes valleys, the forests of the Amazon, or Southeast Asia's river systems, "women and men farmers apply their formidable experience to harvest plants, raise livestock and fish every day to ensure their families' food security," Ms. Fréchette said. "Their knowledge, as much as that of any research institution, is crucial to our future."

Through video conferencing from Guadalajara, Mexico, FAO Goodwill Ambassador Mana, a musical group, was to introduce school children in Mexico and the United States who have been active in "The Growing Connection," a pilot project linking school gardens in Africa, Latin America and the United States.

Early next month the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is scheduled to convene in Geneva its Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore.

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