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Protecting the soil - ensuring food security for tomorrow

Bonn/Nairobi, 11 September 1998 - The issue of global food security will be the defining issue for the next millennium. According to the World Bank, 740 million people, that is one person out of eight, cannot afford enough food to carry on productive working lives and 340 million experience ill health or growth disorders because they lack sufficient food. Global food production has to increase by over 75 per cent in the next 25 years if we are to improve global food security. There is a paucity of new arable land and most of this growth has to come from intensive farming.

At a press conference in Bonn today, Klaus Toepfer, Executive of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) stated that land degradation, in particular the deterioration of soils, is one of the most serious challenges facing humankind as it affects the ability of land resources to feed the earth's growing population. As a result of declining fertility, the productivity of the land in some areas is dropping alarmingly, to the point where the ability of people to wrest living from their land is being compromised.

Mr. Toepfer said that the "Link between land degradation and poverty is obvious. If the ecosystem's capacity to meet human needs is crippled, the plight of those living directly off the land worsens and recovery and development become all the more obvious."

"The use of unsustainable agricultural technologies and inappropriate government policies have combined to damage both fertile and environmentally fragile lands. Similar policies in the developed and developing countries subsidizing fertilizers and pesticides and irrigation have caused their excessive use and led to land and water degradation," he said.

On the role of UNEP, Mr. Toepfer said: "the task of sustaining soil fertility and the energy and land resources cycles in ecosystems is crucial and challenging and is linked with minimizing climate change and conserving biological diversity. Both of these issues are high on the list of UNEP priorities. It is the interlinkage of all the issues that has prompted UNEP to establish a new division for the coordination of its activities in relation to the different environmental conventions".

Acknowledging the work of NGOs in providing assistance to developing countries and the world science community in soil conservation and combatting desertification, Toepfer said "these efforts have also been parallelled by those of German donor agencies. Indeed, the involvement of the world's NGOs is a promising sign for future cooperation and synergy to tackle this very important issue with such far-reaching consequences for the future of life on earth".

Mr. Toepfer was speaking at the invitation of the aid agency "Deutsche Welthungerhilfe

For more information:
Tore J. Brevik,
Director, Information and Public Affairs, UNEP Headquarters,
P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya,
Tel.: 254-2-623292, Fax: 254-2-623927,
Patricia L. Jacobs,
Media and Information Officer,
Tel.: 254-2-623088, Fax: 254-2-623692

UNEP News Release 1998/91

Friday 11 Sep 1998
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