Good News Agency
INTERVIEW WITH DR. JACQUES DIOUF
FAO Director General
by Sergio Tripi
27 July 2001
World Bank and IMF, persistent organic pollutants, organic farming, genetically modified organisms, the hunger problem.
Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations
at the end of 1993, Jacques Diouf – Senegalese, Ph.D. in Social Sciences of
the Rural Sector from Sorbonne, Paris – appreciates the role of Good News
Agency in the creation of a more aware public opinion and agreed to give an
interview to its Publisher and Editor, Sergio Tripi.
Tripi: Food security and the development of the agricultural sector in the
world's poorest countries were a major spotlight of discussion at the third UN
Conference on the Least Developed Countries that was held in Brussels from 14 to
20 May 2001. In the last few years
the policy of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank
to support the 49 LDC has been corrected substantially, putting a major
emphasis on social development rather than on a strict control on those
countries’ balance of payment. Are
there joint programmes and/or lines of convergence between those two
institutions and the FAO strategic objectives?
FAO has worked in partnership with the World Bank since 1964. This long-standing
relationship has been highly productive, with FAO helping its member countries
to prepare investment projects for Bank financing and thereby unlock additional
resources for development. About one third of all agricultural and rural
development projects financed by the Bank each year are prepared under this
joint programme to which the Bank contributes 75% of the costs.
and the World Bank also work very closely together on a whole range of technical
and strategic issues. One current example is FAO’s work on a Global Farming
Systems Study, commissioned by the Bank as a contribution to its revision of its
agricultural and rural development strategy. This study, which is looking at the
challenges expected to face small farmers throughout the world over the coming
30 years, has drawn on expertise throughout the Organization.
decision by the World Bank to launch its new agricultural and rural development
strategy during the ‘World Food Summit: five years later’ meeting in Rome in
November this year is indicative of the strength of the relationship between the
World Bank and FAO.
World Bank has also agreed in principle to respond positively to government
requests for financing the expansion of activities launched under FAO's Special
Programme for Food Security in Low Income Food Deficit Countries. The first
country to benefit from these new arrangements is Madagascar, and several others
will follow this year.
so closely with the Bank means that we tend to look at development issues from a
similar perspective. It is true that both the Bank and the IMF have recently
seen poverty alleviation as principally a matter of investing in health and
education, and this has been reflected in the guidance which they have been
giving to countries engaged in the preparation of poverty reduction strategies.
But we are finding that they are receptive to our arguments that getting rid of
hunger is a crucial first step in the eradication of poverty. We also sense that
there is a growing recognition on their part of the essential role that
agricultural development has to play in improving livelihoods of poor families,
given that about 70% of the poor live in rural areas.
further signal of the depth of our cooperation with the Bretton Woods
Institutions is FAO's recent admission as an observer in the prestigious
Development Committee, where many of the decisions on IMF and World Bank
strategies are taken.
Stockholm Convention concluded its work with the signing on 23 May of a Treaty
that bans the Persistent Organic Pollutants. In perspective, how is this treaty
going to affect agriculture in the world?
POPS treaty addresses persistent organic chemicals which are carried over long
distances. They accumulate in particular in the arctic regions of the world. At
present the following compounds are included: DDT, Aldrin,
Dieldrin, Endrin, Chlordane, Heptachlor, Hexachlorobenzene, Mirex,
Toxaphene, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Dioxins, and Furans, but other
substances may be added in future. The first nine chemicals are pesticides, PCBs
are used in electric transformers, and dioxins and furans, are unintended
pollutants resulting from inappropriate industrial processes and uncontrolled
burning of waste.
The present list of pesticides is of little relevance to agriculture. DDT is practically only used for the control of malaria vectors although there may be some illegal spill-over for agricultural use. The other compounds are of very limited agricultural use: Aldrin and Dieldrin production was stopped years ago (although for some compounds some residual use remains in termite control) but production of these pesticides has nearly completely stopped and alternatives are available.
Organic farming is being increasingly considered by the public opinion as an appropriate response to the over-use of the ‘green revolution’ methods. Which of these two approaches is going to play a major role in the fight against hunger?
Green Revolution brought important progress in food production in many
developing countries but it must be recognized that Green revolution
technologies mostly depend upon external inputs. Often they are too costly or
not available for poor farmers if access to credit is difficult.
agriculture favours local food systems and is based upon cheap and locally
available resources. Organic agriculture techniques replace external agriculture
inputs by environmental goods and services and farmer's management skills and
knowledge. Organic agriculture raises farmers' independence from factors over
which they have little control (availability of mineral fertilisers, synthetic
pesticides and improved seeds/breeds, access to credit) and increases the
productivity of traditional systems. In resource-poor areas, organic agriculture
is an important alternative in the search for an environmentally sound and
equitable solution to the problem of food insecurity.
should however be observed that if nitrogen fertlilizer application were to
originate exclusively from cattle manure, 50% of the current agricultural land
would have to be converted to fodder and nitrogen fixing crops and the number of
cattle would have to increase by 300% in order to satisfy the demand.
for certified organic food therefore represent 1-2% of total food retails in
industrial countries. The demand for certified organic products is however the
fasted growing food sector, with a demand increasing of 20% per year. Provided that producers of developing countries are able to
certify their organic products and access international lucrative markets,
returns from organic agriculture can contribute to food security by increasing
is an increasing concern worldwide for the threat of genetically modified
organisms. This concern is mainly due to possible dangerous side effects. How
much time and what methods of research would be necessary to experiments GMO
fully? What is the FAO position on this subject?
is not possible to make sweeping generalizations about GMOs. FAO supports a
science-based evaluation system that would objectively determine the benefits
and risks of each individual GMO. This calls for a cautious, case-by-case
approach, assessing the environment and food safety of each product or process
prior to its release. The evaluation process should also take into consideration
experience gained by national regulatory authorities in clearing such products.
Careful monitoring of the post-release effects of these products and processes
is also essential to ensure their continued safety to human beings, animals and
the environment. The recently adopted Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on
Biological Diversity provides a framework to develop internationally agreed
standards for risk assessment. The Codex Alimentarius, which Secretariat is
hosted by FAO and WHO, is currently developing standards for risk assessment of
genetically modified food.
other widespread objection to genetically modified food, equally important for
the public opinion, is that it leaves too much power into the hands of few
multinational corporations and it leaves the farmers in the developing countries
dependent from them even for the purchase of seeds, that would not be naturally
produced any more by crops resulting from GMO. Is this true and, if so, how
could this situation be rectified?
investment in biotechnological
research tends in fact to be concentrated in the private sector and oriented
towards agriculture in higher-income countries.
In view of the potential contribution of biotechnologies to increase food
supply and overcome food insecurity and vulnerability, FAO considers that
efforts should be made to ensure that developing countries, in general, and
resource-poor farmers, in particular, have the possibility to benefit from
relevant biotechnological research results, while continuing to have access to a
diversity of sources of genetic material.
needs to be addressed through increased public funding and dialogue between the
public and private sectors. FAO continues to assist its member countries,
particularly developing countries, to develop the capacity to reap the benefits
derived from the application of adequate and safe biotechnologies in agriculture,
forestry and fisheries. The Organization also assists developing countries to
participate more effectively and equitably in international commodities and food
trade. FAO provides technical information and assistance, as well as
socio-economic and environmental analyses, on major global issues related to new
November FAO will hold the World Food Summit. At the previous Summit in 1996,
the Plan of Action agreed upon contained seven commitments on part of
governments, which were expected to lead to significant reductions in chronic
hunger. And already in December 1992, the Joint FAO/WHO International Conference
on Nutrition declared that “hunger and malnutrition are unacceptable in a
world that has both the knowledge and the resources to end this human
catastrophe”. Why does the hunger problem continue to be so dramatic in the
answer your question, let us look at the situation in Africa. While Africa is
not the most populous continent, it does contain half of the world’s
low-income food-deficit countries and 33 of the 48 least developed countries –
countries in which the majority of the population survive on less than one
dollar a day. Recently, the
problems that have beset many African countries most often involve a combination
of internal and external problems. These
include uncertain climatic conditions, in particular repeated periods of drought
and flooding; lack of water control - only 6 percent of the cultivated land in
Africa is irrigated or has some kind of water control system, compared to 11.7
percent under irrigation in Latin America and 42.6 percent in South Asia; armed
conflicts both within and between countries; high population growth which places
land and water resources under pressure and may lead to severe land erosion,
salinisation and depletion of the resources themselves; plant pest and human
diseases including malaria, tuberculosis and most recently HIV/AIDS; political
instability; high levels of debt; declining levels of international aid; and
in the nine years between 1990 and 1999, Official Development Assistance (ODA)
to developing countries fell by 19 percent. This contradicts the international
commitment to increase ODA from its current low level of 0.24 percent to the
agreed target of 0.7 percent of GNP. In 1990 the Africa region received 30
percent of ODA. By 1998, this had
fallen to 21 percent despite the commitment by world leaders at the World Food
Summit to strengthen efforts towards reaching of the target.
is one of the reasons why FAO has called on world leaders to return to Rome this
November for the World Food Summit: five years later.
There is a need to reaffirm those commitments made five years ago, when
the goal of halving the number of the undernourished in the world by 2015 was
endorsed by 186 countries. FAO’s State
of food insecurity in the world 2000 clearly showed that the present rate of
progress is not sufficient to achieve this goal.
More determined action is thus required from governments and the
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