Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs’ statement

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for the opportunity to be here today and to comment on this important draft document that FAO has put together for this meeting.
I think, Mr. Chairman, that what you said is exactly the spirit of the draft and the spirit of the meeting. How can we move from words to action?  There were plenty of words in 1996, plenty of words at this Summit, but still there are plenty of hungry people with a dramatically worsening situation. In parts of Southern Africa, for example, as we speak, the drama of prolonged drought, intense hunger, multiple diseases, and the pandemics of AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis are crippling populations and leading to mass death.   And yet we talk and we don't act. So the question is: can we act?  Do we know what to do?  Do we know how to pay for it?  What the FAO draft document shows in a very succinct way is that the answer to these questions is yes - not in the final version, because any action always will be elaborated in the real process of doing things, but in concept. We know a lot of what to do, and we know where the emergencies are greatest.

We know where the needs are greatest, yet we seem paralyzed as a world in doing something about it.  It is ironic that we are here five years later with very little progress in reducing world hunger, with a worsening of the situation in large parts of Africa, and with the need to restate goals that have been stated and stated again.  We also had a historic global meeting in September 2000 that our Chair and President Kérékou referred to: the Millennium Summit, at which virtually all of the world's political leaders came together to endorse dramatic goals for the world. That also was a historic and heartening event, except for the point that virtually all of those goals had been stated earlier, and the targets had been missed before.   Once again, we were at a point of restating goals that we had not achieved as a world.   So the big question here is how to make sure that this time around we actually move from words to action, because surely there is no more powerless constituency in the world than the impoverished who are hungry and dying of disease.  We don't see the headlines every day that we should see - 24,000 people died yesterday needlessly of their poverty.  That's the true news that we don't read about because we are talking about the most voiceless people in the world.  We have to help in our own ways to add a voice to their pleas for survival and dignity.  

What do we need to move from words to action? We need three things: We need a programme that makes sense. We need financing for that programme, because progress costs money, let's face it.  And we need leadership from all sectors: from the rich and the poor, the private sector, the community sector, the NGO's, the scientists, and academia.  There is a stake for everybody.   I think on the programmatic side this document is correct: there is a valid, not overly complex or overly simplified, way to proceed.  There is not one single magic bullet.   We need to increase productivity in rural subsistence agriculture, partly through science, partly through investing in basic infrastructure, and partly through helping farmers with basic skills to use improved technologies.  We need to address the urgent day-to-day problems of people who do not get enough nutrition - through nutritional fortification and supplementation, school meal programmes, and timely emergency relief.  Can we even do that when we know how critical the crisis is in Southern Africa now and the donors don't respond?  Can we even do that when we are on the brink of famine?  We don't know as a world whether we can because we often don't try.  We need a multi-sectoral approach.  We don't have just one way, we have many ways, and we need to proceed simultaneously with them.   We need to understand the urgency of improved technologies.  We need not run away in fear from new technologies that can dramatically improve crop productivity: new seeds with drought resistance, resistance to salinization of soils, and nutritional fortification. That means traditional breeding and, in my personal opinion, it means advanced agro-biotechnologies as well. 

But what we really need in addition to all of that is financing.   We need more than pious platitudes from the rich countries, because it's the easiest thing in the world for rich countries to say how terrible poverty is in the poor countries and then not to act on the scale that is required. This programme is so important because it puts numbers on the table. It's not good enough just to say we care. It's important to say how we care and how much we are going to invest, because things cost money, and in the rich countries we seem to know that.  In my own country, the congress just voted for 180 billion dollars of subsidies for farmers. But then sometimes the rich countries tell the poor: "No, it doesn't cost any money, it's just a matter of good organization."  Well, I am an economist, and I can tell you maybe only one thing about agriculture, and that is it costs money.  I leave the agricultural wisdom to the real experts here, but I can tell you as an economist that we can't end hunger for free or on words alone. 

The picture in this context of the collapse of official development assistance is shocking.  It's not just immoral, it is incredibly unwise of the rich countries.  It's not just criminal, as was once said. It is a mistake.  We went to the World Food Summit and then had a collapse of development assistance for agriculture. Then we come together five years later and say, "Why isn't there enough progress?"   Well, I think we can do a little bit better than that.  If we don't invest in these goals, we will not have progress.  Since we have not invested in these goals, and we do not have progress. 

Now, let me also, as a macro-economist, point out a couple of things about the estimates in this programme.  The estimates are that 24 billion dollars of incremental investment would bring hundreds of millions of people out of hunger and premature death.  How much is 24 billion dollars? If you're from a country like Benin or its neighbours, that's a lot of money.  If you're the rich world, I have to say as a macro-economist, it is almost a rounding error in the data.  Why do I say that?  Because if you divide the 24 billion, 12 for the rich countries and 12 for the poor, what does that 12 for the rich countries come to?  The rich world has an aggregate Gross National Product this year of 25 trillion dollars.  We don't even talk about billions anymore, we just talk about trillions.  We talk about a 1.6 trillion dollar tax cut in the United States or 10 trillion dollar economy or a 25 trillion dollar annual income of the rich world.  How big then is 12 billion dollars?  It is about one half of one thousandth of our annual income. So take the annual income of the rich countries, divide by a thousand to get 25 billion; divide again by half to get 12 ½ billion.  That's basically what this programme is calling for. 

Let me put it in another way: for every hundred dollars that you and the rich world have in this hall, for every hundred dollars of your income, put aside 5 cents for the world's poor.  That's what this programme is asking for.  For every hundred dollars put away, 5 pennies are needed for the world's poor to save hundreds of millions of people from degradation, from the trap of poverty, from the oppression of malnourishment, from premature death due to under-nutrition. Five cents per hundred dollars.  But you know how hard it is to get those 5 cents.  I know my country has not yet committed to that 5 cents per hundred dollars, and I don't think any of the rich countries really have committed to what's needed right now.  So we are really down to some pretty basic questions.  In a world where the rich are living with riches beyond imagination even a generation or two ago, and where the poor are living in a degradation that is so extreme that it is killing people by the millions every year, we have to ask the question of whether we actually have an international community or whether that's just another nice phrase.  That is the real test at this Summit and at every international gathering right now. 

We found when I chaired a Commission on Macroeconomics and Health for the World Health Organization that one penny out of every 10 dollars or 10 cents out of every hundred dollars could save 8 million lives by giving people access to anti-retroviral drugs, mosquito nets, tuberculosis treatment, and immunizations. And now you're being told that 5 cents for every 100 dollars can save millions of lives as well. 

We are facing a challenge that is at the core of the international community.  We have the means and the know-how to end absolute poverty in the world, and yet we have so far lacked the ability to move from words to action.  I hope that you leave this meeting at least with the appreciation that there is no excuse for any further lack of progress, and that there is no mystery regarding the lack of progress.  If the rich countries will not invest in the poor, the poor will die because that's how severe the crisis is.  And if the rich will invest just small amounts, the poor will live, and their children will grow up out of poverty with a chance for the future.  That's the central issue. 

Finally, in conclusion, let me say a word about the way ahead.  It was my pleasure to work with the wonderful FAO team as they prepared this document.  I have been asked by the Secretary General to help launch a project for the next three years on how we can actually meet the Millennium Development Goals, one of which is the attack on hunger.   All of these goals - whether it's improving access to education, reducing maternal and child mortality, curbing AIDS, TB, and malaria, providing sanitation, or protecting our ecosystems - are intertwined in creating a viable world that truly can speak of itself as a world community.   So the Secretary General has given me the honour of launching the Millennium Project at the United Nations Development Programme and partnering with all of the stakeholders, including the UN Agencies like FAO, which has been the leading international agency on hunger issues.  I look forward very much to the Project's special Task Force on Hunger that will take this programme and elaborate it in greater detail, making the connections between hunger, disease, environment, water, sanitation, and basic infrastructure. The Task Force will include some of the great scientists sitting in front of me here today, including Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen, and others who are world thinkers and leaders in this area. Like the rest of the Millennium Project, this Task Force will work closely with governments, academia, and the private sector, so that we can come back in the years ahead, not bemoaning the fact that it would have been so easy and isn't it a shame how many more millions died needlessly, but taking pride in what we are doing, knowing that we have made a contribution to the liveable and viable world that all of us here seek. 

Thank you very much. 


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