Laying the groundwork for the World Food Summit: five years later


Committee on World Food Security Chairman Aidan O'Driscoll says there's a great deal that can be done to fight hunger. (L. Spaventa/FAO)

The 27th session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) met at FAO headquarters 28 May to 1 June. In addition to covering the Committee's normal work of reviewing progress on reducing hunger worldwide, participants made some key decisions regarding the World Food Summit: five years later, to be held 5 to 9 November in Rome. CFS Chairman Aidan O'Driscoll spoke about the outcome of the meeting.

What was accomplished at the CFS?

Firstly, we undertook an assessment of the world food security situation. Unfortunately, around 800 million people remain undernourished, with the problem concentrated in certain regions of the world, notably sub-Saharan Africa. On the positive side we examined a number of extremely successful case studies, which showed what can be achieved through appropriately focused action. We also made arrangements for the World Food Summit: five years later, which will look at what needs to be done in order to meet the World Food Summit target of reducing by half the number of hungry by 2015. Lastly, we had a very important discussion on AIDS and its impact on food security.

What's the link between AIDS and hunger?

AIDS was initially identified and thought of as a health problem. It's now becoming clear that it also has a huge effect on food security. Indeed, the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has described AIDS as one of the main obstacles to development in affected countries.

AIDS greatly diminishes agricultural production, especially in some of the poorest and most food-insecure regions in the world. It reduces the labour available for agricultural work, causing a disastrous fall in production. In Ethiopia, for example, a study found that AIDS-afflicted households spend 50 to 66 percent less time on agriculture. In many of the hardest-hit areas, locally produced food is the only food available, so AIDS has a huge impact on both food production and consumption. (To see the CFS report on HIV/AIDS, click here.)

What was decided at the CFS regarding AIDS?

The Committee agreed on a set of guidelines that Governments are urged to follow when dealing with AIDS and food security. For example, countries need to build the AIDS issue into their national food security plans, and similarly build food security issues into their activities geared toward battling AIDS. Agricultural extension programmes will have to be modified to foster the use of labour-saving tools and crops, and nutrition education strategies will have to be adjusted to provide advice to people suffering from the disease.

During CFS, both developing and developed countries recognized that the link between AIDS and food security is a major issue. AIDS was not referred to in the World Food Summit Plan of Action, but it will be a significant issue at the World Food Summit: five years later.

Why is there a need for a follow-up meeting to the World Food Summit?

We made a very big commitment in 1996, which was taken very seriously by member governments. From the information we have now, it is pretty clear that we're not going to attain that goal. We made this commitment and it's not being fulfilled, so now we need to decide what we're going to do about it.

If we're not going to reach the World Food Summit goal, are there any reasons for optimism?

Absolutely. Asia is well on its way to achieving the World Food Summit target, mainly because of the general economic growth in the region, which allowed some countries to devise anti-poverty and pro-food security strategies that were very successful. This success underlines the importance of broad economic policy to achieving food security.

But there are also examples of improved nutrition due to research and technology targeted at identified food-security issues. For example, we looked at extremely successful village-based projects that have been massively and rapidly replicated. A survey of 208 case studies using sustainable agriculture techniques found that the average increase in productivity was 90 percent. What is even more amazing is that we're not talking about short-term improvements in agriculture productivity. In all of these case studies the natural resource base was maintained or enhanced in the process. For example 45 000 farm families in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua increased crop yields from about 400 kilos per hectare to more than 2 000 kilos by using organic fertilizers, cover crops to protect the soil and other elements of sustainable agriculture.

Where do we go from here?

Everyone agrees we need to identify the constraints that have emerged in trying to reach the target. For that reason we've decided to have roundtable discussions with prime ministers and other high-level ministers on where we stand with the World Food Summit Plan of Action. We will be looking at the results achieved so far, as well as the obstacles met and means of overcoming them. We hope leaders will take part in those roundtables and get a better feel for the nature of these issues. It's one thing to have the information in a technical document; it's much more effective for political leaders to get to grips with the material by discussing it with their peers.

How about non-governmental groups? Will they play a role at the World Food Summit: five years later?

Yes, at CFS we decided to have a parallel dialogue with key stakeholders alongside the Summit. This will involve official delegations meeting directly with NGOs, CSOs and the private sector. In addition, a limited number of representatives of these groups will have the opportunity to directly address the Summit meeting. The World Food Summit Plan of Action puts primary responsibility for food security on national governments. But we often forget that it also identifies things that must be done by the international community, civil society and the private sector. It is vitally important, therefore, that all of these people account for their actions to date and contribute to the debate on what we need to do to ensure that the World Food Summit target is achieved.

What's the main message you want to get across about fighting world hunger?

When people look at the numbers of malnourished -18 percent of the population in the developing world, 34 percent of the African population - they react with horror at the scale of the problem. But before they've even had a chance to consider actions to fight the problem, they start feeling a sense of hopelessness, that nothing can be done. What I want to stress is that a great deal can be done. We have seen extremely successful policies and projects that have significantly raised levels of nutrition and have been replicated to thousands of others. We need to remember those successful cases and redouble our efforts to achieve the target we set in 1996. I firmly believe that it is possible to do it if we all show sufficient commitment.

8 June 2001

World Food Summit: five years later Web site


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