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Biodiversity is World Food Day Theme

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is highlighting biological diversity as a key to ending world hunger. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports on World Food Day observances Monday at U.N. headquarters in New York.

The Food and Agriculture Organization is warning that crops and animal species are fast disappearing from the earth.

FAO officials estimate that over the past century, more than three quarters of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost. Today, just 12 crops and 14 animal species provide most of the world food.

At a World Food Day observance, FAO chief Jacques Diouf told an international audience that the shrinking gene pool means fewer opportunities for growth and breakthroughs in agriculture.

"No one can predict the future," he said. "No one knows which traits from which species may hold the key to tomorrow's agricultural breakthrough. For this reason we must preserve as much as we can of the world agricultural biodiversity."

Mr. Diouf said he remains hopeful of reaching the U.N. goal of cutting in half the number of people suffering from hunger by 2015. He said for many poor farmers, the diversity of life may be their best protection against starvation.

"As the world population increases, agricultural production must evolve and increase to keep pace with demand," he said. "Furthermore, as agricultural biodiversity declines, the food supply becomes more vulnerable. Agriculture becomes less able to adapt to environmental change such as global warming or the appearance of pests and diseases."

Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Louise Frechette welcomed ratification of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, which went into effect earlier this year. She called the treaty a step toward meeting the demands of producing more food more sustainably.

"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," she said. "There, in the Great Lakes valleys of Africa, in the forests of the Amazon or in the vital river systems of Southeast Asia, women and men farmers apply their formidable experience to harvest plants, raise livestock and fish every day to ensure their families food security."

The U.N. observance also featured a video-conference link between farmers and school children who are participating in a pilot project linking school gardens in Latin America, Africa and the United States.

World Food Day was proclaimed in 1979 to heighten public awareness of the challenges of hunger, malnutrition and poverty.