H. E. José Ramón López Portillo, Independent Chairman of the FAO Council - 13 November 1996

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The Summit that opens today represents the last great effort of this century and the first of the next century to fulfil an old promise - that of food for all - and the new promise of achieving this in a sustainable manner. It is not therefore the culmination of a process, but rather a new beginning in which the political will, that we see today at the highest level, will help shape and implement a food security strategy that will be more effective than in the past.

When the Director-General proposed the convening of this Summit, the Council encouraged the Member Countries to actively support the proposal and to help successfully complete the preparations in an unprecedently short time. Transparency and democratic participation entailed the full involvement of the United Nations agencies and the collaboration of non-governmental organizations, academic and scientific institutes and private enterprise.

Concurrent activities resulting from recent international conferences were carefully taken into account to avoid duplication and enhance efficiency. Similarly, top-level monitoring and refinement procedures were devised within countries, regions and the United Nations system.

The lead-up to the Summit therefore took the form of a more complex, multidisciplinary and multiparty debate that will now have to be institutionalized if we are to sustain the conditions needed for a dialogue, decision-making and coordination process that involves all the stakeholders. Unless we achieve this, we run the risk of disastrous conflicts and, indeed, the use of violence and oppression to settle differences between countries and peoples, a situation further exacerbated by the fact that today's global economy and the interlinkages of social and ecological problems would endanger the whole of humanity.

All the parties must therefore work together in a united effort to ease the anguish of the hungry and malnourished. That is why this Summit also focuses on people, besides food, and on the ethical and moral dimension of hunger and malnutrition. It centres on life and on the right to food. The concern is not just to produce and distribute more food, but to do this in a sustainable manner and to guarantee the access of present and future generations to a wholesome and nutritious diet.

The future of food and agriculture cannot rest on strategies that offer more of the same, even if they were to offer much more of the same. We are now facing the limitations and dangers of such an approach. The challenge before us lies in mobilizing an agriculture driven by inputs and oriented towards production; an agriculture that is in tune with environmental conservation and that is capable of responding effectively to the nutritional needs of all people. As things now stand, many of these needs do not find expression in effective market demand or affordable prices.

The poorest members of society lack the means to realize their preferences. Hence the enormous gulf between potential and real demand. Remember that over half of humanity has a daily income of under three United States dollars and that 10 million people are reported to die each year from hunger or hunger-related causes. But as fifty years of FAO have shown, the food security equation extends far beyond concern over production and access. Broadly speaking, it also encompasses population growth, the changing patterns of food consumption, the convolutions of inequality, the application of appropriate technologies, the participation of local communities and women in development, the deterioration of the natural resource base that underpins agriculture and fisheries, and the contamination and degradation of the environment. The interplay of these factors has an exponential impact that can determine the success or failure of a food security strategy.

For the last fifty years, FAO has played a lead role in defining the normative and operating framework in which the international community has striven to overcome hunger and attain food security. However, FAO's impact is, by itself, limited and its role essentially catalytic. Its advantage lies in the mechanisms that translate its normative function, in its ability to coordinate and cooperate with other United Nations agencies and actors, and in its capacity to demonstrate in the field. FAO's strength also lies in its credibility as a body that is objective, impartial and technically competent and that is efficient and democratic in analysis and decision-making. These are attributes that we should jointly foster, not undermine.

Thank you, Mr Chairman, for your encouraging words on the role of the Council in preparing for this Summit. The Council is answerable to the Conference and, as such, its role is to apply the resolutions of the Conference and to prepare it for new decisions. The Council therefore supervised and supported at all times the mandate entrusted by the top governing body to the Committee on World Food Security to prepare the Summit and draft the Rome Declaration and Plan of Action that have been placed before you for approval. A notable feature of the preparatory process was the goodwill shown by all parties throughout and the constructive manner in which differences were resolved - clear evidence of a common concern to hold high the mandate and objectives of FAO and to ensure the success of this Summit.