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VIENNA, Jun 25 2008 (IPS) - Climate change will top the agenda of an international food conference on Europe that begins Thursday in Innsbruck, Austria.
Experts at the conference, hosted by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), will examine ways to adapt good farming practices to changing climatic conditions.
Dr Jacques Diouf, FAO Director-General warned at a press conference held here on the eve of the 26th FAO Regional Conference for Europe that climate change is the biggest challenge that agricultural activities face in the coming years – and the most costly to cope with.
The meeting follows the 35th meeting of the European Commission on Agriculture that concluded Jun. 24.
Representative of 44 member nations from Europe and Central Asia together with experts from international specialised agencies, and inter-governmental and non-governmental partners will explore the climate factor at a time when agriculture is booming in some parts of Europe and Central Asia.
Substantive growth has been recorded in transition countries in Europe and Central Asia over the past decade. The highest growth is reported in some of the poorest countries in the region.
However, experts warn that the good news may be short-lived. The consequences of climate change and the significant price hikes of nearly all basic food commodities have already had a negative impact, particularly on the food security of vulnerable groups in many countries.
Agriculture, forestry, fisheries and rural development in Europe are faced with many other challenges over the coming years, including international competition, further liberalisation of trade policy, and a population decline in rural areas.
Climate change is adding to the existing pressures on agricultural activities such as crop yields, livestock management, uncertain income generation, and land abandonment in rural areas.
Many countries of southeast Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) remain extremely poor. Agriculture here is often the only source of income, employing a high percentage of the labour force.
In numerous parts of Europe local cultivation is the main economic activity that for generations has helped feed communities, and preserved the landscape and local traditions. This ancient activity coincides with a growing consumer demand today for traditional regional agricultural products.
Diversification of rural income is high on the agenda. Agricultural development in the region will be discussed, with its implications for food security, and achievement of the World Food Summit and Millennium Development Goals.
In the past FAO has helped to strengthen the capacity of governments to enable agriculture growth. Now the organisation is in the midst of facilitating an integrated approach to climate change together with farmers, scientists and policy makers.
The focus of FAO technical assistance is capacity building in protecting against plant and animal diseases. FAO helps also in the adoption of legal and technical requirements for European Union accession or integration to enable access to markets.
Its experts help communities to better manage land, water, forests and other natural resources, food safety and quality standards. FAO assists in land reform legislation and promotes good agricultural practices.
The FAO has broadened its activities in the region since 1996 in response to the changes in Europe and the emergence of the transition economies.
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