Biodiversity for food security theme of World Food Day

ROME, Italy, October 15, 2004 (ENS): Biological diversity is one of the keys to ending world hunger, Dr. Jacques Diouf, director-general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today. "But we are also raising an alarm," he warned. "FAO estimates that about three-quarters of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost over the last century. Just 12 crops and 14 animal species now provide most of the world's food."

Dr. Diouf was speaking at a ceremony marking World Food Day 2004, which falls on the anniversary of the foundation of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization on October 16, 1945 and is observed in Rome and in some 150 countries around the world. This year's World Food Day theme is Biodiversity for Food Security.

"Our planet abounds with life and it is this great diversity that holds one of the keys to ending hunger," Dr. Diouf told officials and representatives from FAO member states, international organizations, other UN agencies, nongovernmental organizations, civil society and farmers' groups.

He emphasized the need to maintain biodiversity in nature and on farms to ensure to all people a sustainable access to enough diversified and nutritious food.

In his keynote speech, World Food Day 2004 special guest President Ferenc Màdl of Hungary said, "The international community should spare no effort to implement the Millenium Development Goals for the benefit of all."

Màdl called on all countries to "create conditions to facilitate access to genetic resources for environmentally sound uses."

Hungary is among the countries that welcomed and ratified the FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and Màdl encouraged the world's growers to consider it as "a leading place in Central Europe to breed traditional and new plant varieties."

The FAO treaty, which entered into force this year, guarantees that farmers and breeders have access to genetic materials they need and it also ensures that farmers receive a fair and equitable share of the benefits derived from their work.

Rather than a single crop variety that guarantees a high yield, farmers in developing countries are more likely to need an assortment of crops that grow well in harsh climates or animals with resistance to disease, the FAO says. For the poorest farmers, the diversity of life may be their best protection against starvation.

Consumers also benefit from diversity through a wide choice of plants and animals. This contributes to a nutritious diet, particularly important for rural communities with limited access to markets.

At today's ceremony a message on the importance of biodiversity from Pope John Paul II was read by Monsignor Renato Volante, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to FAO. The Pope stated that the World Food Day observances contribute to liberate humanity from the scourge of hunger and malnutrition.

More than 40 percent of the land's surface is used for agriculture, placing a large responsibility on farmers to protect biodiversity. By using appropriate techniques like no-tillage agriculture, reduced use of pesticide, organic agriculture and crop rotation, farmers maintain the fragile balance with the surrounding ecosystems.

For the first time on World Food Day at FAO headquarters, farmers from different parts of the world had a chance to speak about their experience in enhancing biodiversity and increasing food production in a sustainable way.

Elsewhere, World Food Day is being celebrated to raise awareness of the fact that more than 840 million people remain hungry around the world and still more suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. In the United States, sponsored by the U.S. National Committee for World Food Day, hundreds of WFD teleconference sites were set up at colleges and at U.S. Embassies across the world. Some colleges organized a week-long observance.

In Sweden, substantive seminars for parliamentarians, the media and the scientific community were organized. A conference on the importance of biodiversity took place in Stockholm and a scientific seminar on biological diversity was organized today at the University of Agriculture, in Uppsala.

In India, essay competitions were organized in schools in Delhi. In several European and Middle Eastern capitals, schoolchildren competed in drawing contests on biodiversity and food security.

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