World Food Security

17:57 03.04.2009 • Jacques Diouf , Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

IT IS A GREAT HONOR FOR ME to be with you today in this global city of Moscow to address such a prestigious gathering on such an important topic -"Global Food Security."I first wish to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, the Deputy Minister Mr. Sergey Ryabkov and the Editorial Board of the "International Affairs" journal for their kind invitation. I am indeed honored to take part in this great lecture series.Russia is a founding father of the United Nations. It is an immense country which plays a vital role in the global and rural economy.Russia is hosting tomorrow and after tomorrow the "World Grain Forum" in Saint Petersburg. This event is taking place at a crucial time for world affairs.The economic and financial crisis has followed and worsened the food crisis of 2007-2008.Russia, which has become a major player in the global grain economy with stable export markets and geographical proximity to buyers in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, has an important role to play in the fight against global hunger. Russia exported 21.2 million tons of cereals in 2008/2009, representing 8 percent of the world´s total cereal exports.


State of World Food Insecurity

THE TRIPLE "food, fuel and financial" crisis threatens global food and nutrition security and the achievement of the 1996 World Food Summit targets and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In only two years, 2007 and 2008, mainly because of high food prices, the number of hungry people in the world soared by 115 million. Preliminary results of studies conducted by FAO show that the financial and economic crisis could, in 2009, drag more than 100 million persons into chronic hunger. In other words, the world has today about one billion people suffering from hunger and malnourishment.

In addition, as of last month, 31 countries are in a situation of food cri­sis requiring emergency assistance. Of these, 20 countries are in Africa, nine in Asia and the Near East and two in Central America and the Caribbean.

This cannot be acceptable in a world of abundance and when trillions of U.S. dollars are being spent to deal with the present financial crisis.

Unfortunately, the global food insecurity is the chronicle of a disaster foretold. Five years after the World Food Summit of 1996, we already had to convene a summit in 2002 to draw the international community´s attention to the fact that resources to finance agricultural programs in developing countries were falling, instead of increasing. Under such conditions, the target of halving world hunger by 2015 would not to be reached. Indeed, under prevailing trends at the time, that target would only be realized in 2150.


The food crisis and the difficulty to face it is the result of 20 years of under-investment in agriculture and negligence of the sector. The share of agri­culture in official development assistance fell from 17 percent in 1980 to 3.8 per­cent in 2006 and international and regional financial institutions saw a drastic reduction in the resources allocated to the activity.

Yet, agriculture provides the livelihood for 70 percent of the world´s poor. It contributes about 10 percent of GDP and accounts for more than half of total employment in developing countries. In countries where more than one third of the population suffers from hunger, agriculture represents 21 percent of the GDP.

Programs and Initiatives



IN DECEMBER 2007, in response to the rapid hikes in food prices, FAO launched the "Initiative on Soaring Food Prices" with the aim to quickly boost food production in the affected countries and prevent further deterioration of food insecurity, by facilitating small farmers´ access to essential inputs like seeds and fertilizers and also assisting governments in designing appropriate policy and response measures.

FAO organized from 3 to 5 June 2008, in Rome, a High-Level Conference on World Food Security to discuss the impacts of soaring food prices and the emerging issues of climate change and bioenergy. The event was attend­ed by representatives of 181 countries, with 43 Heads of State and Government and more than 100 ministers. The Conference Declaration, which was adopted by acclamation, underlined the need to increase food production, particularly in low-income and food deficit countries, to boost investments in agriculture and to make effectively available the necessary funding required.

In April 2008, the UN Secretary-General established the High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, bringing together the United Nations system, the Bretton Woods institutions and other international organiza­tions, to develop a unified response to the food crisis. I had the honor to be appointed the Vice-Chairman of this Task Force.

The Task Force prepared the "Comprehensive Framework for Action" (CFA) which defines the common position of its members on actions to be implemented in the short, medium and long terms to deal with the crisis and to improve food and nutritional security at national, regional and global levels. The CFA was presented by the Secretary-General to the G8 Summit in Japan and to the United Nations General Assembly last September.

The Way Forward

THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS has shattered the triumphant certainties of deregulation of the international economic system. Calling for a recasting of the international financial order, the G20 leaders have already met twice since last November and a third meeting is foreseen in the next fall.


The food crisis requires no less attention for, in addition to its econom­ic, social and ethical ramifications, it has also proven to be a serious threat to world peace and security.

We must secure the food security of one billion hungry people, and also double food production to feed a world population projected to reach 9.2 billion in 2050. This will need to be achieved in the face of several challenges, includ­ing demographic and dietary changes, climate change, bioenergy development and increasingly scarce natural resources.


Plans, strategies and programs to defeat hunger and malnutrition in the world do exist, even though they may need further refinement and updating. As part of the preparations for the High-Level Conference on "How to Feed the World in 2050", which will be held in Rome in October 2009, FAO is updating the Anti-Hunger Program which was prepared in 2002 and is addressing all relat­ed issues.

World leaders and the international community need to reach a broad consensus on the total eradication of hunger from the planet in conformity with the Guidelines on the Right to Food and to follow up with the required actions to achieve these goals by 2025, as already set for Latin America and the Caribbean countries by the Iberoamerican Summit of 2006 and endorsed by the Latin America and Caribbean Summit of 2008.

However, what lacks are the means and the right setting to achieve the target. What we need is a "new world food order." Recently, different fora, including the FAO High-Level Conference in June 2008, the G8 Summit in July in Japan and the Special Session of the FAO Conference last November, called for strengthening the governance of world food security, with the aim to ensure greater coherence and coordination in the fight against hunger.

The present international agricultural system that has resulted in increased hunger and poverty needs to be corrected to meet the hopes of the founding fathers who wanted it to be fairer and more considerate of the hungry, when they created FAO in 1945. We need to strengthen the Committee on World Food Security which is universal as it is made up of Member Nations of FAO and Member States of the UN and reports to ECOSOC.

Farmers in both developed and developing countries should have an income comparable to those earned by workers in the secondary and tertiary sec­tors of their respective countries. Appropriate policies need to be developed together with rules and mechanisms that will ensure not only free but also equi­table international agricultural trade.


The structural solution to the problem of food insecurity in the world lies in increasing production and productivity in low income food deficit coun­tries within the difficult constraints of climate change. We have to allocate prop­er funding for agriculture in developing countries for investment in rural infra­structures and to ensure access to modern inputs with the assistance of adequate institutions for small farmers. But to have safe and nutritious food we need to guarantee its safety and quality. And at a time of global movement of people and goods we have to address preventively new threats of transboundary pests and diseases of plants and animals.

The problem of food security is a political one. It is a question of prior­ities set by governments on the international agenda in the face of the most fun­damental of human needs, which will determine the allocation of resources to the different sectors of the economy and of categories of workers in the population. 

Several countries have realized remarkable progress toward the achievement of the set goals of hunger reduction, including in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Therefore we can improve world food security if we build on these experiences.


We should not let hunger defeat us. With concerted efforts, political leadership, determination and effective financial resources, we surely can do it.

The momentum for change that we are currently witnessing will soon lead to concrete and effective actions relegating hunger to history. It is an issue of peace and security in the world. That is why the World Food Summit of the Heads of State and Government that I propose for November 2009, which will be the third after 1996 and 2002 events, is so important.

I thank you for your kind attention.


A. Oganesyan, Editor-in-Chief of International Affairs: Many thanks, Dr. Diouf. As the host, let me ask the first questions. You´ve said that the food cri­sis, which started in 2007, was growing right until the end of 2008 and whose consequences are being still felt, appreciably aggravated the situation. Could FAO have predicted the situation?

Answer: As I´ve mentioned, we all knew that the food crisis was on its way. I was warning that it was approaching five years after the 1996 World Food Summit. I was at that time already calling for the second summit and warned that if we continued to cut investments in agriculture, instead of increasing them in order to cut by half the number of hungry people by 2015, we would meet this target as late as by 2115. We drew up for the second summit a program of fight­ing hunger worth about $24 billion a year, in order to reverse the tendency of cut­ting back investments in agriculture. It wasn´t, however, fulfilled; on the con­trary, we saw that the share of agriculture in Official Development Assistance (ODA) fell from 17 percent in 1980 to 3.8 percent in 2006. As early as September 2007, before the crisis, I met with all ambassadors and permanent representa­tives, I wrote to the heads of government, published articles and gave interviews. I was warning that we were heading for a sociopolitical crisis, to hunger riots. Hunger riots did take place in 22 countries across the world and on all continents. Thus the early warning system is up and running, but an early reaction system simply does not exist.


This is why we propose an early reaction mechanism. On the one hand, I have in mind the creation of a fund of voluntary contributions for immediate actions. On the other hand - which is more important - there are already rudi­ments of such a reaction mechanism in the shape of bilateral and multilateral institutions dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters and conflicts.

Dr. Sospeter Magita Machage, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Kenya to the Russian Federation: Why is the world so apa­thetic about putting resources into the development of agriculture and making food accessible to all? Why has Africa been hit the worst by the shortage of food (20 countries), and what´s the impact of protectionism in trade on food produc­tion?

Answer: The main reason for the apathy is that we lived in a world of surplus production of food. Its production was sustained through subsidies to farmers in OECD countries to the tune of $365 billion. Quite obviously, farmers in devel­oping countries could not compete during that period with them on the world market because food production was declining. Solutions to the hunger problem were seen in shipping food from the reserve stocks of the developed countries, but that didn´t work. And Africa, which only exported food in the early 1970s, currently only imports it. South Asia, Central America, some nations in the Caribbean and even in Central Asia are facing a formidable problem of food security. Why does Africa face the worst threat? First, it does for the same rea­sons that the other countries do, but I must note that agriculture in Africa is based on natural irrigation from rains (only 4 percent of its arable lands use irrigation systems against 38 percent in Asia). This means that the crop yield on 96 percent of the lands that provide food for 60 percent to 80 percent of the population depend on rains which we are unable to control. That does not mean a shortage of water. Africa uses as little as between 3 percent and 4 percent of its renewable water resources against 14 percent in Asia. This calls for investments in irriga­tion and roads in rural areas because food has to be dropped there by parachute for the lack of roads. How can the farmers get modern resources and take their products to the market under these conditions? It is vital to tackle the problem of storing food: we lose between 40 to 60 percent of some types of agricultural products because of the absence of appropriate preserving measures. As a result, Africa will not be in a position to use the advantages of free market unless we resolve the global problem of unfair practices in the world market, on the one hand, and, on the other, of investments in infrastructure and access to modern resources.


A. Popov, Russia´s State Duma of the Russian Federation: The World Grain Forum in St. Petersburg on 6-7 June was actually organized jointly by FAO and Russia. Are there ideas for further joint activities? Will there be discussions on how to control the rules of the game in the food market in the near future?

Answer: We are very happy that Russia undertook the initiative for convening the forum to discuss the grain situation in the world. The key problems of the 2007-2008 crises were caused by a mismatch between demand for and supply of grain. Even today, the grain reserves are at the lowest mark in 30 years, or about 426 million tons, and the reserves-to-sales ration is 20 percent. Thus the grain component of food security is of vital importance. The idea to invite to the forum the major players, both among the producers and consumers, is a brilliant idea which we naturally fully supported and decided to work together with the Russian Federation to make arrangements for the forum. We think it´s a good idea to hold forums also on the other types of agricultural products, for instance on milk and animal produce. We also ought to pay attention to fish supplies (such a conference in Kyoto several years ago looked at how fish farming can con­tribute to food security). I believe that forums on separate types of agricultural produce are useful beyond doubt. It is, however, also necessary to have a com­prehensive idea of the general demand for and supply of food and the factors influencing them both in the light of the situation in the market place and how things stand with regard to government and private investments.

Regarding the rules of the game, as I have mentioned, we must address them. Our progress will depend on the member nations. Our task is to raise the question and suggest general ways of solving it.

A. Oganesyan: Much has been said of late about excessive assistance to farmers whereas combating hunger calls for building big agribusinesses. We know apart from making their own contribution to food production farmers are also the sec­tion of the population that defines the country´s culture, even, we can say, the root national ideology. What is the future of major agribusinesses?


Answer: There are 5 million small farms around the world. In many countries, they produce the bulk of the food the world needs. The point is not to replace the small farmers but to help in pursuing a differentiated policy and encourage big agribusinesses. This requires various political tools. It is necessary to encourage the efficiency and productivity of small farmers and ensure their access to the market. At the same time there should be investments in infrastructure, in the sys­tems of accessing resources, it is also necessary to reinstate the institutions for assisting small farmers which were to a degree dismantled by the liberalization of the economy.

Constantin Mihail Grigorie, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Republic of Romania to the Russian Federation: I had the honor to attend the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996. At that time I was directly involved in the operation of FAO and was Romania´s ambassador to Rome. What do you expect from this year´s summit in comparison to the 1996 summit?

Answer: First and foremost I expect it to learn a lesson from what has happened since 1996. At that time we made decisions but did what was contrary to what we decided. In consequence there were riots in 22 countries in 2007-2008 which killed people and the governments came to the brink of falling and one govern­ment did fall. We became convinced that food security is more than an econom­ic or even ethical problem - it is a problem of peace and security on the planet. Many countries came to realize that this is a problem of their own national secu­rity. I believe this is also a problem of social consciousness: many people at that time thought that the state should not meddle in anything. Today we can see states passing economic stimulus packages worth trillions of dollars to correct the imbalances in the operation of the private sector in the banking and financial spheres and to help industries, including the automotive industry. At the moment, I don´t think anyone should call into question the need for the state´s participa­tion in protecting the fundamental right to food, that is to say, the right to live, which will help in the future to avoid threats to international peace and security. This is the situation in which we will probably try to take measures to implement the policy which was not implemented either after 1996 or after 2002, when I was warning the world that we were moving in the wrong direction.


A. Gorelik, UN Information Center in Moscow: You are here on the World Environment Day. The environmental situation is getting even closer connected with the food situation in the world. New sources of energy and primarily biofu-el have been increasingly discussed in recent years against the backdrop of the worsening climate change problem. This has been an excuse for using ever increasing tracts of land to produce biofuel. FAO has been critical and skeptical saying that biofuel may hamper the production of sufficient amounts of food. FAO has now released its regular report on the food situation in the world. What are FAO´s latest views of this tangle? 

Answer: FAO was not against biofuel but against certain practices in producing it. We say that countries would have to spend for the production of biofuel $13 billion in subsidies together with tariffs to protect their markets. As a result, 104 million tons of grain was consumed by machines rather than people, which is bad, I think. If a nation is in a position to develop a competitive biofuel within the bounds of sustainable development and at the same time continues produc­ing food and even export it, we have no objections. The problem lies mostly in the ways the fuel is developed and used. It is not having the expected effect on holding back the global warming because the energy spent on its commercial production is having a negative effect on climate change; this is especially true of the production of biodiesel from vegetable oil. Thus, we have to take into account the impact on climate change of the energy used to produce biofuels as well as to take into account the economic aspects: the rationality of investments in addition to the use of land and water resources.

Ye. Ananyeva, a political scientist: To your mind, how is climate change going to impact the growing of agricultural crops and, consequently, their prices, which directly relates to food security. Which countries´ food security will be hit the worst by global warming?

Answer: I´m convinced that the global warming problem is directly bound with agricultural production. This is the reason I and my associates took part in the cli­mate change conference in Bali. One of the discussions at the World Food Summit this coming autumn will look at climate change and agricultural pro­duction. It will be further discussed at a conference in Copenhagen in December. We believe that climate change will have a big impact on agriculture because of the expected higher air temperature, especially in the tropics and the Sahara, where crop yields will fall, and also owing to water shortages in the arid areas. Generally, agriculture plays a role not only in cushioning the impacts of climat­ic changes, but it also contributes to global warming through emissions of car­bon dioxide in tilling the soil and emissions of methane gas generated by cattle. On the other hand, forests absorb carbon dioxide thus easing global warming. Therefore, we should improve agriculture, especially in the sense of conservation (by putting organic substances back into the soil), use shallow tilling, as well as improve animal husbandry methods and avoid the cutting down of forests.


A. Oganesyan: Genetically modified products are a very important issue. Specifically, the producers of GM products are currently pressing African coun­tries into overturning the European veto on deliveries of GM products to European markets. What´s your take on the subject, taking account of the hunger problem and the producers´ claim that genetic engineering is almost the only selection method (even if this isn´t so) and that GM products will become a panacea for hunger? 

Answer: First of all, I must regretfully say that being an organization of the UN, FAO has no position on this question. Some time ago we formed a Working Group attached to the Codex Alimentarius, a joint body of WHO and FAO in order to examine questions related to food produced from generically modified organisms (GMO). The Working Group was holding meetings in Japan for six years and agreed on the common principles and questions of assessing risks and biosecurity. When, however, the question arose of experiments and allergenic reactions, opinions diverged. As a result, FAO did not produce a unified position on this question. When separate sovereign states turn to us, we help them with training personnel in molecular biology, with purchasing equipment and setting up appropriate centers. Most important, we help the developing countries to increase their intellectual potential to address problems on their own and, form­ing their own opinion, make decisions in their national interests. I should, how­ever, note that an overwhelming proportion of food in many countries is not pro­duced with the use of biotechnologies. I should also note that many technologies are free because they were developed by state-run companies.


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