Press Releases

          19 October 2004

    Maintaining Biodiversity for Food Security Must Be Global Priority, Says Deputy Secretary-General in World Food Day Remarks

    NEW YORK, 18 October (UN Headquarters) -- Following are Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette’s remarks on World Food Day in New York, 18 October:

    [Translated from Spanish] First of all I wish to welcome our friends participating in today’s celebration in Mexico.  It is a true pleasure to have you here amongst us, even if it is only though the medium of technology. 

    Unfortunately, my Spanish is not so good that I can continue to give you the whole speech in that language but let me say, in English, that it is a real pleasure for me to join you today and to acknowledge indeed that you have brought a new zest to this celebration.  I am really glad to see not only these magnificent plants -- and I would need a course from the young farmers to tell me what these are -- but to see the farmers themselves, the young people here and in Mexico, the ones we saw on video, being associated with this celebration.  I think it is a very good idea.

    This year’s observance highlights the links between food security and another key theme on our agenda:  the conservation and equitable use of the world’s biological diversity.

    Protecting biodiversity is not just a matter of identifying particularly vulnerable species or areas, and then protecting them for their own sake.  Biodiversity permeates the entire spectrum of human activity and habitation, and is linked intrinsically to our ability to achieve sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals.  As such, it must be taken into consideration in our planning and management of the development process -- not as an afterthought or luxury, but as a central factor in our very existence and survival.

    It is in the area of food security, perhaps more than any other, that biodiversity’s value is most clear.  It is biodiversity that provides the plant, animal and microbial genetic resources for food production and agricultural productivity.  It is biodiversity that provides essential ecosystem functions such as fertilizing the soil, recycling nutrients, regulating pests and disease, controlling erosion and pollinating many of our crops and trees.  And it is knowledge of biodiversity -- notably by farmers responsible for their families’ health and well-being -- that can ensure food availability during periods of crisis such as civil conflicts, natural calamities or disabling diseases.

    The unprecedented loss of biodiversity should therefore raise the loudest of alarms. Many freshwater fish species, which can provide crucial dietary diversity to the poorest households, have become extinct, and many of the world’s most important marine fisheries have been decimated.  Food supplies have also been made more vulnerable by our reliance on a very small number of species:  just 30 crop species dominate food production and 90 per cent of our animal food supply comes from just 14 mammal and bird species -- species which themselves rely on biodiversity for their productivity and survival.  There has been a substantial reduction in crop genetic diversity in the field and many livestock breeds are threatened with extinction.

    Given the growing interdependence among countries, and expanding trade in agricultural goods and services, maintaining biodiversity for food security is as much a global priority as a local one.  It is very encouraging that the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture entered into force earlier this year.  By guaranteeing access to the genetic resources of the world’s major food crops, with fair and equitable benefit sharing, the new treaty will help to meet the demand of producing more food, more sustainably.  The treaty is a welcome addition to a framework that already includes the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

    While we all depend on biodiversity, the people who rely most directly on it -- and who are most immediately affected by its loss -- are the roughly 900 million extremely poor men, women and children who live in rural areas.  There in the Great Lakes valleys of Africa, in the forests of the Amazon, or in the vital river systems of South-East Asia, women and men farmers apply their formidable experience to harvest plants, raise livestock and fish every day to ensure their families’ food security.  Their knowledge, as much as that of any research institution, is crucial to our future.

    We must do more to protect the biodiversity on which they and we depend.  That is why world leaders, meeting at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, endorsed the target adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity of achieving, by the year 2010, a significant reduction in the current rate of biodiversity loss.  As we look ahead to next year’s review of the Millennium Declaration, I hope we will all recognize the need for biodiversity to occupy a greater place in our strategies for feeding the world and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

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