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
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
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
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 control.
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 GM crops.
"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
"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, they said.
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
FAO officials offered to facilitate this process along with other
agencies and national and international research centers, encouraging
the adoption of rigorously designed monitoring programs.
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