EDITORIAL -The World Food Summit
FAO will host the World Food Summit in November, and a first glimpse of the documentation confirms that the Organization, once again, is harnessing all available resources to provide the world with benchmarks for the debate on world food issues that will remain valid for years to come. Already once, in 1974, FAO had organized a major food summit, the United Nations World Food Conference. That event spawned a host of innovations including the establishment of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the strengthening of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS).
One of the most valuable aspects of the World Food Conference proved to be its documentation, which served the international community for many years as a basis for analysis and policymaking. An even more powerful platform is being prepared for November.
Included in the documentation is a technical paper on agricultural research co-authored by Uma Lele of the World Bank, on behalf of the CGIAR, and Stein Bie, Director of FAO's Research, Extension and Training Division.
Another technical paper "Food Requirements and Population Growth" (WFS 96/TECH/12) offers fresh insights into the magnitude of the changes in food demand anticipated in the coming decades. A provisional version is available for review and comments.
(Dietary) "Energy requirements of developing countries will increase towards 2050 due to the growth of their population numbers and also, to a lesser degree, as a consequence of change in their structure," says FAO. "The aging of the population and the increase in its physical height as a consequence of better nutrition, are factors of increasing energy requirements, whereas declining fertility and increasing urbanization are factors reducing energy requirements. As a result, by 2050, energy requirements would be multiplied by 2 in developing countries as a group (by more than 3 in inter-tropical Africa)".
The report observes that to eliminate chronic undernutrition - taking differences in food distribution inside countries into account - Africa would have to increase its energy supplies by an additional 30 percent (40 percent for tropical populations). Asia would have to increase its energy supplies by 15 percent and Latin America by less than 10 per cent. To provide diets that are well balanced in terms of amino acids, vitamins and nutrients, Africa would have to increase its plant-derived energy by another 25 percent (46 percent for countries consuming mainly roots and tubers), and Asia by 21 percent.
"All included, developing countries would have to increase their plant-derived energy by 174 per cent. This means that while countries of Latin America and Asia would have to roughly double their plant-derived energy, Africa would have to multiply it by five (multiply by seven for the root- and tuber-consuming countries)."
These are daunting prospects by any measure, particularly when considering that demography-based projections are usually quite reliable compared with those based on socio-economic parameters such as income or price elasticities.
The paper hints at some implications for Africa by concluding..."the current level of development of economic infrastructure and of human resources will constitute a serious handicap in the case of Africa. Africa would thus be faced with the obstacle of improving its human and infrastructure resources while facing a very difficult food situation. In doing so, Africa would also prepare the base for solving its food security problem in the long term, after 2025."
World media are expected to give broad coverage to the Summit, but those who wish to follow events in greater detail are advised to consult the FAO home page on the Internet (http://www.fao.org), and especially the Summit information line (http://www.fao.org/wfs/homepage.htm or gopher.fao.org). The e-mail address of the World Food Summit is: firstname.lastname@example.org.