MEDIA RELEASE

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
ALEXANDER DOWNER
AA 05 095 17 October 2005

UN World Food Day

It is pleasing to note on World Food Day that the Australian Government will provide up to $8 million for a new Seeds of Life program aimed at helping to improve food security in East Timor through increased crop production.

Seeds of Life 2 will be funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Not having sufficient food for months of the year is a problem most Australians would find difficult to imagine. However, this is a reality for many East Timorese, where about half the population, or 480,000 people, are vulnerable to food shortages each year. As a result malnutrition rates are amongst the highest in the world.

Through the first stage of the Seeds of Life program, new varieties of staple crops such as sweet potato, maize, rice, peanut and cassava were tested on experiment stations to find higher yielding varieties than those currently grown.

Seeds of Life 2 will move to on-farm testing to ensure the crops are suitable for farmers. Importantly, the program will continue to focus on strengthening East Timor’s own systems for seed testing, production and distribution. Improved crop productivity has a direct impact on poverty, and may also reduce pressure on urban areas in East Timor, which are experiencing continual rural-urban drift.

Hunger remains a serious problem globally, not just in East Timor. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that more than 850 million people in developing and transition countries continue to suffer from lack of food, despite there being enough grown world-wide to feed everyone.

In May 2003, the Australian Government announced it would contribute $1 billion over five years to programs and initiatives that would enhance food security for people in developing countries with a particular focus on the Asia-Pacific region.

In addition, Australia recognises that open international trade will improve food security in the long-term. To this end it helps developing countries undertake domestic reform where necessary to strengthen internal markets and increase agricultural productivity and supporting infrastructure.

World Food Day is a United Nations event held on 16 October each year to draw attention to the plight of people around the world who go hungry every day.

Media inquiries:

Chris Kenny (Mr Downer’s office) 0419 206 890

AusAID (Public Affairs) 0417 680 590

Read about the Seeds of Life 2 project