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Second food revolution needed to feed the world

By Anthony Fletcher , 15-Sep-2006

The FAO has called for a second Green Revolution to feed the world's growing population while preserving natural resources.

Addressing a meeting of the World Affairs Council of Northern California in San Francisco, FAO director-General Jacques Diouf said that a major international effort was needed to feed the world when the population soars from six to nine billion.

"The new Green Revolution will be less about introducing new, high-performance varieties of wheat or rice, important as they are, and much more about making wiser and more efficient use of the natural resources available to us," he said.

Diouf added that the original Green Revolution of the Fifties and Sixties doubled world food production by bringing the power of science to agriculture, but relied on the lavish use of inputs such as water, fertilizer and pesticides.

The task ahead may well prove harder.

"We not only need to grow an extra one billion tonnes of cereals a year by 2050 - within the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren but do so from a diminishing resource base of land and water in many of the worlds regions, and in an environment increasingly threatened by global warming and climate change," he said.

FAO, as the United Nations specialised agency for food and agriculture, is well placed to play a fundamental role in helping bring about such a revolution. It understands the mechanisms of hunger better than anyone and knows that establishing partnerships at grassroots level is the only means of achieving the changes on the ground that are vital to ending hunger.

But some campaigners argue that the organisation, while possessing immense technical expertise, remains out of date. Established in 1945 to help a war-ravaged world feed itself, the FAO was built without an emergency response mechanism, and can be wasteful and inefficient.

Diouf however remains committed to the task of both modernising the FAO and devising strategies to reduce hunger. Furthermore, he believes there are concrete signs towards this direction at both national and international levels.

For example, African leaders have decided to raise the share of their national budgets allocated to food and agriculture to 10 per cent. And the World Banks declining trend in lending for agriculture and rural development is now reversing.

In addition, tests organised by FAO in a number of developing countries since 2000 had shown that yield increases of up to 30 percent could be achieved through Integrated Crop Management (ICM), or improved crop management techniques.

"It may sound incredible but we actually can save water and grow more food at the same time," said Diouf.

"We must face the fact that the destinies of developing and developed countries are intertwined in a globalised world. Crucial challenges clearly lie ahead, and FAO will continue to spare no effort in helping to meet them."

The San Francisco-based World Affairs Council of Northern California, which has 10,000 members, is one of the United States leading non-governmental fora for discussion and debate of international affairs.

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