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Statements

Curriculum vitae of Dr Jacques Diouf

 


Statement on the Occasion of World Food Day
Rome, Italy, 16 October 1996

 

Mr President of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire,
Mr Minister,
Your Excellencies,
Most Reverend Monsignor,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to begin by thanking you, Mr President of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, for honouring us with your presence at this celebration and for having agreed to address this assembly. The purpose of this ceremony is not only to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of FAO but also, and above all, to pay tribute to all the men and women engaged in farming, fisheries and forestry who work so hard to feed the world. That is why, Mr President, I see your presence among us as being doubly symbolic. First, because you represent a country whose successful agricultural development is a lesson for all; and I should like you, in this connection, to convey my praise to the farmers of Côte d'Ivoire for their many achievements. Second, because you represent the African continent, which is undoubtedly the region of the world where the challenge of food security is most keenly felt. You will understand, therefore, that we shall be listening most attentively to your address to this assembly.

The theme of this year's World Food Day is "Fighting Hunger and Malnutrition", a theme that is all the more thought-provoking in that we are faced with the continuing logic-defying paradox of a planet that produces enough for everyone but at the same time has over 800 million people who have no guarantee of an adequate diet. Paradox,too, in that alongside food insecurity, there are countries with food surpluses they have no idea what to do with. And a further paradox in that 2 billion people suffer nutritional deficiencies, while obesity in some countries is reducing life expectancy.

How on earth did we reach such a pass and how can we accept it morally? But, more importantly even, how can we get out of it?

It is our duty to help those who are hungry and malnourished today and those who risk not having enough food tomorrow. I am convinced that, unless we do something for these people today, the problem will only get worse tomorrow, when the world will have millions and soon billions of additional inhabitants, each with the right to an adequate, healthy and balanced diet, but many will be denied this right unless we act now. Hunger only gives the world wasted resources, wasted human potential, social and politicalunrest, misery and death. So we have no choice but to react.

What, to my mind, is particularly unacceptable is that we know how to resolve the problem. We have the tools and we have the know- how to use them. Must I therefore conclude that we have lacked the necessary will?

We have a dual challenge ahead: that of producing enough food and that of ensuring that each individual has access to this food and consequently food security.

The high-yield varieties of wheat and rice, and then maize, have enabled us to double and even triple output on fertile land in thirty years. Improved seeds became available at the same time as irrigation, fertilizers and the means to control pests and diseases. We must not lose sight of the increase in productivity that the Green Revolution made possible, particularly in Asia. Devastating famine was looming and had to be checked. And so it was, with the farmers winning the day. The cost to society and the environment was high, but at least famine was averted, and we learned a great deal.

The potential of the technology released by the Green Revolution has not been fully realized - far from it. There is still a vast difference between what small farmers can harvest and what researchers can obtain at their experimental stations, where output is on average three times higher. A similar difference exists within countries between the yields obtained by modern farmers and those obtained by small peasant farmers. But no breathtaking scientific discovery is required to curb such disparities; all we need is to put into practice what we already know.

But we have let matters slide and the chain of technology transfer has been broken. The farmers cannot express their needs to the scientists as their voices are drowned in the clamour of modern life, while the researchers no longer pass on new discoveries to farmers in many developing countries. This chain of know-how is the lifeline of food security, yet we are unable to communicate to the least privileged farmers, often the women, the information they need to improve their methods of production. We need to set this right as soon as possible and to develop the extension systems. After all, it would take so little to achieve so much.

We also need to support agricultural research, both at the international and national levels. We should encourage the research networks of one country to work with those of other countries in the same region. This would give sufficient critical mass to move forward and avoid duplication of effort and the wastage of precious resources. Working together beyond national boundaries in agricultural research means working together for peace. The Green Revolution showed us what science can do to grow more food. So we must encourage scientific research at all times, especially knowing that it takes ten, even twenty years, for an idea in the laboratory to reach practical application in the field. And in twenty years there will be another 2 billion mouths to feed.

But the instruments of the Green Revolution need to be tempered, adjusted and supplemented with other methods. We now know that we need to promote integrated farming systems within a global framework of sustainable development. Biotechnology is one of the tools that we shall have to use wisely. We are now able to introduce into the genetic code of seeds resistance to pests that have hitherto been controlled by heavy use of dangerous chemical products. We can build up cattle resistance to trypanosomiasis through crossbreeding. We know how to use genetic improvement in the aquacultural production of tropical fish such as tilapia and carp. The first transgenic plants are now being released on the market. While the scientists, legal experts and public opinion discuss nature and genetic engineering, we can only hope that future scientific discoveries will produce more food in a world without conflict. The Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources held in Leipzig last June paved the way in this connection, particularly with regard to the intellectual property rights of bio-organisms. I am convinced that in a few years' time we shall look back to the Leipzig Conference and see it as a scientific turning point in a field so vital to food security.

The Green Revolution called for greater inputs. Production cannot be increased without using more means, but the blind, indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides is a dangerous practice that can result in pollution, poisoning, salinization and the drying up of aquifers. We are now aware of the benefits of good drainage and the integrated management of pests, nutrients and crops. We also need to learn from ecological agriculture and recognize the growing success of organic farming. It is for us to build bridges between these various schools of thought, making sure that none are left out. Conflicts of belief or thought are out of place when over 800 million human beings do not have enough food. I strongly advocate open dialogue between all relevant groups in all areas linked to the life and work of farming communities. Food production is an area in which we all have a contribution to make.

The Green Revolution increased the output of the three main cereal crops at a time when fertile land was widely available. The situation now, however, is very different, with hardly any unused fertile land left. We also need to pay greater attention to the protection of natural habitats, especially forests, for the safeguarding of biodiversity, the regulation of climates, soil enrichment and the conservation of water resources, because, in the final analysis, we are all dependent on this natural environment. Agriculture can no longer encroach without restraint on forest or savannah, but must instead be intensified where currently practised without endangering the environment.

In marginal areas, farmers often spread the risk by engaging in mixed systems that combine agriculture with other economic activities. We need to draw upon such ancestral wisdom and encourage combined activities in their appropriate ecological and socio-economic setting. They are an expression of sustainable agricultural development, successfully merging cropping, stock raising, poultry farming, fish culture, forestry, hunting and gathering, the sale of produce on local markets, seasonal migration and all sorts of activities that mark the rhythm of a farming household's working year.

However, past and future scientific advances, the transfer of technology to farmers and the introduction of environmentally-sound farming practices will not be enough by themselves to achieve the production objectives. These measures will have to be accompanied by a heavy resumption of investment in agriculture, for some of the constraints can only be removed through investment. I am thinking in particular of water management which is essential in many regions with weather uncertainties. The potential does exist, particularly in Africa, but it needs to be marshalled by focusing on low-cost irrigation or water management schemes that can be built and run by the farmers themselves. I also have in mind road links, storage facilities, communications and even schools and other social amenities that are essential, not only for production and market supply but also for the well-being of the rural population who will thus remain in rural areas.

These are all factors addressed in the Special Programme on Food Production in Support of Food Security which was initiated by FAO and its partners in 1994 for the benefit of the low-income, food-deficit countries.

The other challenge before us is access to food. While food security for small farmers can be achieved by raising productivity, cushioning the impact of irregular weather through water control and increasing income by setting remunerative prices, we cannot do the same for the urban poor who lack the means to buy the food they need to survive. What they require is an employment policy and appropriate food distribution programmes.

Our efforts to achieve food security need to focus primarily on women and the young, who are the most vulnerable population groups. I am convinced that in regions with agricultural potential, any increase in production resulting from the actions I have mentioned will generate income and employment, and will have a beneficial impact on all sectors and the whole population of the area. Other survival strategies, however, will have to be found for regions where agriculture is marginal and the environment fragile, and for areas of urban poverty. Economic policies will have to be rethought in both cases if we are to provide a setting that is conducive to higher agricultural production on the one hand, and to a broader selection of economic activities on the other.

If universal access to food is to become permanent, we will have to monitor the food supply situation constantly at world, regional, national and even local levels, not only to keep an eye on trends but also to anticipate emergency situations so that the international community can be mobilized in good time. That is the role of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System.

Finally, we need to promote a system of agricultural trade that will protect the consumer, which is what FAO and its partners set out to do when they establish internationally-recognized quality standards and methods of analysis.

We have the human capital, the theoretical understanding and the know-how to take up this dual global challenge. And there is no doubt that we can mobilize the necessary funds. What we lack, perhaps, is the will to change our priorities, policies and habits. Farmers will respond if given the necessary incentives, if they feel they can shape their own destinies, if they are taught how to enhance their production, their land, their very lives, and if we place our trust in them. Policy makers and senior administrators should therefore restore agriculture to its rightful priority status. Their first task is to create a social, economic and policy framework that will boost food production and encourage

sustainable farming practices. That is the aspiration of the World Food Summit that will shortly open its doors in Rome and that brings a ray of hope to this World Food Day. The Summit will enable the world's leaders to proclaim publicly their will and commitment to do their utmost to eliminate hunger and malnutrition and, in doing so, to involve the whole of civil society.

The science of today and that of tomorrow offer us an opportunity, but this opportunity will only produce results if given the right social, economic and policy environment. What we need to do is to come up with the will to create this environment. That is the condition, which I know we are more than ready to fulfil, if we are to overcome hunger and malnutrition. That is my message on this World Food Day of 1996.

 

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