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Curriculum vitae of Dr Jacques Diouf


Statement on the occasion of the FAO presentation of the Ceres medal to Her Excellency Vidgis Finnbogadottir
Reykjavík, Iceland, 22 October 1997

Your Excellency Prime Minister,
Your Excellency Minister for Foreign Affairs,
Your Excellency Minister for Agriculture,
Your Excellency Minister for Fisheries,
Your Excellency Mrs. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure and privilege for me to be here in Reykjavik today and to have the opportunity of bestowing on you the Ceres Medal which has been struck by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as a token of the deep esteem in which you are held by FAO and by the international community at large.

As you are no doubt aware, according to ancient Roman beliefs, Ceres - the Roman Goddess of Agriculture - not only taught humankind how to work the land, plant seeds and produce food, but also protected the crops and kept her people from hunger and want.

We live in an age when human beings in general no longer look to goddesses for progress and prosperity and to deliver them from their sufferings. They look instead to leaders who have the determination, the compassion, the dynamism and the strength to take forceful practical action to overcome their misery and help improve their lives. And you have been, and I have no doubt that you will continue to be, a determined leader for progress and development and a dynamic advocate for human rights.

Considering the popular manifestations of warmth and sympathy which have characterized your Presidency you have been not only a great leader but also an example to be followed by the younger generation of your country. It could not have been otherwise. Your deep commitment to your country is most laudable. You have reiterated on many occasions: "There is nothing I want more than the well-being of this nation". And you have constantly and relentlessly drawn the attention of your people to the importance of the Icelandic language, the value of Icelandic cultural heritage and devoted particular attention to the importance of investing in education.

This has helped instil a feeling of national pride and identity among your people, and Iceland has gained the reputation of being a highly-educated nation. In this connection, I sincerely hope that your dream to see Iceland establish "an Icelandic information bank and be in thevanguard of research in such fields as fisheries, geology, geothermal and hydro power" will become a reality in the not too distant future.

Your concerns were not confined to Iceland only; you have always shown great sensitivity for the plight of the less fortunate all over the world as reflected in your words: "The terrible want and distress we see in distant countries seem remote, and yet they are so close to us." It is this concern for the less fortunate of the world which made you look beyond the shores of Iceland and support the international community in development initiatives throughout the world. In this context, permit me, Madam, to pay the highest tribute to you for your most generous support to the ideals and activities of FAO.

Having been the first democratically elected woman Head of State, you have demonstrated your concern about the unequal status of women in the world. This is also reflected in the strong support that Iceland has provided in defining and implementing FAO's Plan of Action on Women in Development, which pursues as one of its strategic objectives the enhancement of women's participation in decision and policy-making processes at all levels.

I wish to note with particular importance that you have also been active in promoting two other sectors which fall under the mandate of FAO and which are of major importance to your country: forestry and fisheries.

While travelling within your country during your presidency, it became a tradition to see you planting trees surrounded by a throng of cheerful children. The fact that Iceland was, to all intents and purposes, "treeless", was of great concern to you, and you have therefore encouraged and personally contributed to the afforestation efforts with a view to restoring - at least in part - the woods and vegetation which existed over 60 percent of the Icelandic territory at the time of the Settlement.

Since the cutting of trees and shrubs for fuel and for building settlements devastated a virgin land, it was the sea that kept Iceland alive. Although fish is in abundance in the sea surrounding Iceland, the island nonetheless ran the risk of finding itself in a situation of being left deprived of this fundamental resource for its population due to overexploitation and overfishing. Iceland's surrounding waters also became a favourite far away fishing ground. It is therefore not surprising that Iceland was in the forefront in the efforts to achieve sustainable fisheries development. It has been a staunch supporter of FAO's fisheries programmes which contribute to sustainable fisheries and aquaculture production. It was in pursuance of these policies that you had accepted to be the guest speaker at FAO on the occasion of the sixth World Food Day in October 1986, the theme of which was Fishermen and Fishing Communities. Your statement on that occasion was a hymn to Iceland, to its people and to its fisheries resources. You will no doubt remember that you declared that "In Iceland, the fish can sing, just like a bird. And the sound it makes is music for mankind, everywhere."

In presenting this Ceres Medal, I wish to convey my deepest appreciation for the unfailing support that you, Madam, and the Icelanders have always extended to FAO in its pursuit for a world free from hunger and want.

On this occasion, I also recall with great pleasure and appreciation your involvement in the World Food Summit last November during which you had graciously accepted to chair and guide the discussions of the meeting on "Reinvigorating FAO : A mandate for Change", the recommendations of which have helped us all to see the way forward.

Madam, it only remains for me to present now, on behalf of FAO, this Ceres Medal to a great leader and a great lady.


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