Wealth and Poverty Continue to Coexist in Europe – Diouf

PR Newswire (press release)
May 5 2004

Wealth and Poverty Continue to Coexist in Europe – Diouf

WASHINGTON, MONTPELIER, Vt. and ROME, May 5 /PRNewswire/ — Europe
includes some of the most advanced countries in the world as well as
others that have high levels of poverty, FAO Director-General
Dr. Jacques Diouf said today in his address to the FAO Regional
Conference for Europe.

“The level of poverty in the region, based on a poverty line of
less than $2 per day, stands at 21 percent and 5 percent of the
population are affected by food insecurity. Such levels are lower
than in most other parts of the world, but significant differences
exist among the countries,” Dr. Diouf said.

“Special attention needs to be paid to the poorest countries of
the region, especially those of southeast Europe and the Commonwealth
of Independent States, to help resolve their problems of food
insecurity and rural poverty,” Dr. Diouf said.

Factors fuelling poverty in the past 15 years include the
difficulties associated with moving from a centrally planned economy
to a market economy, declining production in agriculture and the
agrifood sector and resulting unemployment. In the Balkans, the
situation has been further exacerbated by conflict, he added.

The number of undernourished people in the countries in transition
grew from 25 to 34 million between 1993-1995 and 1999-2001, according
to FAO’s State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003. Nearly all of
the increases in undernourishment took place in the Commonwealth of
Independent States, where the number of hungry people rose from 20.6
to 28.8 million.

Agricultural production Agricultural production in the region as a
whole fell by about 0.5 percent per year between 1998 and 2003.
Agriculture accounted for 12 percent of the region’s gross domestic
product in 2001.

Agricultural exports represented 7.4 percent of total exports in
2002, for a value of $211 billion, against agricultural imports of
$222 billion. The 25 countries of the European Union account for more
than 90 percent of these figures.

The year 2003 was unfortunately not a good year for agriculture in
most countries in the region, Dr. Diouf said. Drought, frost,
flooding and other problems, such as locust and rodent infestation,
led to a sharp decline in agricultural production, especially in
Armenia, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine.

“During the last biennium, six countries of the Balkans and
Commonwealth of Independent States received emergency assistance from
FAO to deal with crises in their agricultural sectors, for a total of
some US$15 million,” he added.

Despite these problems, Dr. Diouf said that he was confident that
a determined Europe can meet the challenges of poverty and food

Noting that external aid to agricultural development fell from $27
billion to as low as $10 billion during the 1990s, Dr. Diouf called on
countries to double external aid to agriculture. He said investment
in agriculture should also be increased in order to achieve progress
in reducing undernourishment.

He underlined that a fair trading policy is essential for rural
development and food security.

Agricultural technology The transfer and adoption of appropriate
technology is essential for the sustainable intensification of
agricultural systems, Dr. Diouf added.

Very important are the promotion of exchanges, the existence of
regional and global partnerships and the strengthening of linkages
between public and private research, extension, education and
communication institutions.

The Regional Conference for Europe will also discuss the
improvement of food safety.

“Improving the safety and quality of food products remains a key
objective of governments, private sector and civil society
organizations of all the countries of the region. Such improvement
will help safeguard public health, meet consumer expectations and
encourage local and international trade,” Dr Diouf said.