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"The Right to Food"

Curriculum vitae of Dr Jacques Diouf


FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf

    The right to food is the most fundamental of human rights. Throughout history, chronic undernutrition, whether caused by war, drought, poverty or natural disaster, has caused widespread suffering to humanity. Freedom from hunger remains a long-cherished goal; alongside peace, hunger is the most pressing of all issues.

    There must be two principal components in any strategy to eradicate hunger. One is to produce enough food to supply all the expanding world population. The second is the political will to ensure that all people have access to the food they need for a healthy life.

    FAO concentrates on helping to ensure the sustainable expansion of agricultural production and productivity, where the Organization's strength lies, and its activities are focused on helping its lower-income food-deficit members reach this goal. The majority of the poor in these countries depend on agriculture for employment and income, so growth in food production primarily through sustainable gains in productivity will simultaneously contribute towards attaining both of the principal components of universal food security.

    The dimensions of the hunger problem are great. In the developing countries 800 million people are chronically undernourished. Among them, 192 million children under the age of five suffer from acute or chronic protein and energy deficiencies. Hundreds of millions more suffer from ailments such as retarded growth, blindness and impaired vision or goitre because their diets lack essential vitamins and minerals.

    Progress has been made, both in absolute and per caput terms. For example, the figure of 800 million undernourished people mentioned above is down from 893 million in 1969-71. It is projected to drop further to 730 million in 2010, a figure which still represents an appalling level of suffering and wasted human potential.

    We can and must do better than this. Unless we do, the net food deficits of the developing countries will continue to grow and these countries as a whole will soon turn from being net agricultural exporters to net agricultural importers. These are alarming prospects, given the difficult balance of payments situation and the unfavourable economic prospects for many developing countries.

    Nothing short of a significant upgrading of the overall development performance of the lagging economies, with emphasis on a more equitable sharing of the benefits, will free the world of the most pressing food insecurity problems. For these economies, a central option for an early and sustainable improvement in food security is the enhancement of productivity and production of food. The key to such gains is efficient technology, applied to the commodities that can make a difference and implemented in a way that is environment-friendly and conducive to sustainable development.

    The basic goal of universal food security is one that peoples, governments and the international community have no alternative but to address.Yet, certain trends are not encouraging. Countries most threatened by food insecurity are not investing enough in the agricultural sector or the rural economy, including rehabilitation of the natural resource base. Developmental commitment from bilateral and multilateral sources to developing country agriculture is declining; between 1981 and 1992, overall amounts dropped from US$12 300 million to US$8 500 million in constant 1980 US dollars. During this period, agriculture's share of total development assistance fell from 25 to 17 percent.

    I believe now is the time to raise public awareness and to promote political commitment at the highest level for a global campaign to provide food security for all. FAO will host a World Food Summit in November 1996 to pursue this commitment. Only a combination of faster, poverty-reducing development and appropriate public policy, both national and international, will ultimately improve access to food by the poor and eliminate chronic undernutrition.


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