WASHINGTON, D.C. and ROME -- At the dawn of the third millennium, three-quarters of the world's 852 million men and women suffering from hunger are found in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their survival. Most of them are landless farmers or have such tiny or unproductive plots of land that they cannot feed their families.

For many of these poor farmers, new development opportunities in rural areas would allow more equitable access to basic land and water resources while offering an escape from hunger and poverty, noted FAO today.

In order to put these issues at the heart of the debate, FAO is organizing next week's International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development at Porto Alegre, Brazil, March 6-10, 2006. The conference will take place on the campus of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, with the financial and logistical support of the Brazilian government.

"We have just 10 years to reach 2015, the target date set by the international community to reduce by half the number of hungry people in the world," said Parviz Koohafkan, executive secretary of ICARRD.

"Since the very poorest are landless farmers everywhere, it will not be possible to achieve the Millennium Development Goals unless we find sustainable solutions to the challenge existing in the world's rural areas. It is an appointment we cannot afford to miss."

Convinced that agrarian reform must be tailored to meet the needs of individual countries and that there is no magic formula for resolving global land problems, the Conference aims to foster alliances between governments, small farmers' organizations, international institutions, donors and civil society as a means of assisting the world's poorest people to gain better access to basic productive resources.

The conference opens on Monday, March 6, with the participation of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has made combating hunger and rural poverty one of his chief priorities.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf will also be present at the inauguration, to which heads of state of all Latin American countries have been invited. Jacques Diouf has urged FAO's member states to take an active part in ICARRD in order to identify options and opportunities for reducing poverty and hunger in the world's rural areas.

Five main themes will be the subject of intense debate in the commissions, working groups and at special events. The conference will conclude with a final declaration and plan of action.

Between March 6 and 9, a parallel forum on "Land, Territory and Dignity" will be organized by civil society groups and attended by NGOs and small farmers' movements from around the globe.

SOURCE: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations via PR Newswire.