THE HAGUE, The Netherlands, January 31, 2005
(ENS): With more than 850 million people around
the world living with chronic hunger and undernourishment,
the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) today called for huge financial investments in
water, agriculture and ecosystems to meet the goal of
halving the number of hungry people by 2015.
At the opening of the International Conference on Water
for Food and Ecosystems in The Hague, UN Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) Deputy Director-General David Harcharik
said investments in rainfed and irrigated agriculture
are urgently needed "to produce more crop per drop"
in countries suffering from hunger and malnutrition.
More than 30 ministers and some 500 delegates from
140 countries are attending the week-long meeting jointly
hosted by the FAO and the government of The Netherlands.
"Water, food and ecosystems are three aspects of
our global wellbeing that are so tightly bound that
they have become critical for livelihoods, sustainable
development and for political stability," Harcharik
said. "These aspects deserve more attention than
we currently devote to their description and understanding."
Investments in raising water productivity for staple
foods or high value market crops should not irreparably
degrade precious water resources and related ecosystems,
he said in a keynote speech delivered on behalf of FAO
Director-General Dr. Jacques Diouf.
The prime objective of the Water for Food and Ecosystems
Conference is to help governments identify management
practices and the necessary enabling environments that
lead to sustainable water use at the river basin level,
and the harmonization of food production and ecosystem
Agriculture and natural ecosystems are by far the biggest
consumers of the Earth's freshwater and the competition
between the two sectors for often scarce water resources
is increasing, Harcharik said.
"Reconciling these competing claims on our natural
resource heritage and achieving a balance between natural
ecosystem and agricultural production within our river
basins will be critical."
Humans have altered the carrying capacity of ecosystems
through increased food production and other sectoral
outputs, often neglecting the supply of goods of equal
importance - clean water, timber, biodiversity or flood
The challenge demands all the talent and energy that
humans can muster. Now approaching 6.5 billion people,
the world population is expected to reach nine billion
people by 2050. Food demand is expected to more than
double in a similar time frame.
Some 30 percent of irrigated lands are already degraded,
and water use is expected to increase by 50 percent
over the next 30 years. Science based solutions for
sustaining productivity increases while protecting ecosystems
are key to addressing these challenges
In the urgency of providing food and water for those
in need, care must still be taken with genetically modified
crops to ensure their safety, said a consultation of
experts convened by the FAO last week in Rome.
The consultation was organized in the light of the
controversy and public concern over genetic modifications
(GM), the FAO said.
FAO asked a group of agricultural scientists from many
parts of the world to provide clear preliminary guidelines
on the most accurate and scientifically sound approach
to monitoring the environmental effects of existing
"FAO's aim is to provide a tool to assist countries
in making their own informed choices on the matter,
as well as protect the productivity and ecological integrity
of farming systems" said Louise Fresco, FAO assistant
director-general of the Agriculture Department.
"The need to monitor both the benefits and potential
hazards of released GM crops to the environment is becoming
ever more important with the dramatic increase in the
range and scale of their commercial cultivation, especially
in developing countries," Fresco said.
The scientists recommended that any responsible deployment
of GM crops needs to comprise the whole technology development
process, from the pre-release risk assessment, to biosafety
considerations and post release monitoring.
Environmental goals include the maintenance and protection
of basic natural resources such as soil, water and biodiversity,
The scientists view monitoring as the key element in
generating the necessary knowledge to protect agro-systems,
rural livelihoods and the broader ecological integrity.
Environmental organizations, farmers' groups and community
organizations should be actively and continuously engaged
in this process, the workshop agreed, as they are "absolutely
intrinsic" to the system.
FAO officials offered to facilitate this process along
with other agencies and national and international research
centers, encouraging the adoption of rigorously designed
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All