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Statements

Curriculum vitae of Dr Jacques Diouf

 


Statement on the Occasion of the Celebration of World Food Day
United Nations Headquarters, New York, USA, 5 October 1996

 

Mr President of the General Assembly,
Mr President of the Economic and Social Council,
Mr Secretary-General,
Professor Ivan Head,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The theme of this year's World Food Day is "Fighting Hunger and Malnutrition", a theme that is all the more mind-awakening 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 many 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?

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?

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 deprived of this right unless we act now. Hunger only gives the world wasted resources, wasted human potential, social and political unrest, misery and death. So we have no choice but to react.

We have a twofold challenge before us: that of producing enough food and that of ensuring that each individual has access to this food, thus achieving universal food security.

We must not lose sight of the increase in productivity that the Green Revolution made possible, particularly in Asia thanks to efficient extension systems. 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 Green Revolution technology 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 farmers with access to modern technology and those obtained by small peasant farmers. But no astonishing scientific breakthrough is required to curb such disparities; all we need is to put into practice what we already know.

But we have let matters slide. The chain of technology transfer has been broken and resources have begun to run short. The share of development aid to agriculture has halved in the last fifteen years. Many developing countries and the funding agencies have focused their efforts on other paths to development, rather than on agriculture, and even where food insecurity is acute, agriculture has often been relegated to secondary status in national priorities. In many countries, the ministry of agriculture has become the poor relation in the government administration. The voices that were meant to relay new discoveries to farmers in their fields, in their homes, have been drowned or are barely heard. Even the minimal investment in agricultural research needed to help bring about sustainable food production has been reduced ? and allthis without mentioning the size of the budget allocated to FAO, one of whose duties is to ensure agricultural extension at world level.

We therefore need to react. The Green Revolution showed us what science can do to grow more food, but its instruments now 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.

The Green Revolution called for greater inputs. There is no denying that production cannot be increased without using more means, but the blind, indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides is a dangerous practice that can lead to pollution, poisoning, salinization and the drying up of aquifers. We are now aware of the benefits of good drainage andthe integrated management of pests, nutrients and crops. We also need to learn from ecological agriculture and recognize the growing success of organic farming.

The Green Revolution gave good results 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.

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 harnessed by focusing on low-cost irrigation or water management schemes that can be built and run by the farmers themselves. I alsohave 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 that influenced the design of the Special Programme for Food Security that FAO and its partners launched in 1994 for the benefit of the 82 low-income, food-deficit countries.

The other challenge before us is to secure access for all to an adequate, healthy and balanced diet. 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 broader economic opportunity on the other.

If universal access to food is to be enduring, we will have to monitor constantly the food supply situation 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. This is the role of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System.

Finally, we need to promote an equitable system of international trade in food and agriculture that will at the same time protect the consumer. This is what FAO is working on in partnership with the WHO and WTO.

All these facts are reported and explained in the technical documents that have been prepared for the World Food Summit for which the Heads of State and Government will gather in Rome in less than one month. These documents, which have been diligently put together with the help of other United Nations agencies, academic and research institutions and world scientific experts, recognize that we have the knowledge, skills and even the financial resources to take up the challenges that lie before us. They point to the decisive role that is played by agriculture in fighting poverty and reaching food security. Food production and the fight against both rural and urban poverty need to be reinstated as development priorities. They need to be foremost among the concerns of national and international policy- makers. I do not mean by this, however, that industry, energy, telecommunications, security, road links, airports and harbours are not important factors of development for poor countries and those affected by food insecurity. On the contrary, they are also important areas of investment, as are health and education, but they lose all meaning if there is no food.

We are no longer alone in addressing this situation, for efforts are also underway elsewhere in the United Nations system to build up agriculture and food security as cornerstones of development. International development banks are reviewing their portfolios with this in mind, and development agencies are once again referring to agriculture, after years of neglect. Many NGOs, meanwhile, are stepping up their already impressive efforts to help small farmers.

While the farmers, technical experts and practitioners of development are well-aware of the situation, the top policy-makers in our States and Governments now need to be convinced and mobilized. We must get them to declare that a world in which over 800 million people are still suffering hunger is unacceptable. We must get them to undertake to remedy matters by changing policies where necessary, by allocating resources where needed and, above all, by placing confidence and restoring confidence in their farmers. Such a public declaration of commitment will draw in not only their ministers, their financial organizations and other development agencies but also the whole of civil society in the implementation of a plan of action to secure food for all. That is the motivation behind the World Food Summit which is to be held in Rome from 13 to 17 November.

This Summit, which is an historic first, was not only advocated and agreed by the Conference of FAO in October 1995, but was also unanimously endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December of the same year and by many inter-governmental organizations which urged their members to participate at the highest level. The Summit will be the culmination of a series of consultations with governments, inter-governmental bodies, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. This has led to the drafting of a Policy Statement and Plan of Action to achieve universal food security, which will be submitted for adoption by the Heads of State and Government.

The Conference of FAO appointed the Organization's Committee on World Food Security, which is open to all the Member States of the United Nations, to finalize these substantive documents in such a way that they reflect the concerns of all the Members and of civil society at large. This exercise, to which the organizations of the United Nationssystem were invited, also took into account the outcome of important international conferences held in recent years. The Committee's work has been intense, requiring two sessions and the setting up of an inter-sessional working group which met four times between March and August 1996. The process is now drawing to a close with the Committee scheduled to complete its negotiations at a final meeting planned for next week.

As things now stand, the Plan of Action to be submitted to the Summit calls for a series of concrete, practical measures in seven specific areas, so as to ensure: 1) conditions favourable to food security; 2) access to food for all; 3) sustainable increases in food production; 4) the contribution of international trade to food security; 5) the availability of emergency aid as and when needed; 6) the necessary investment; and 7) concerted efforts on the part of governments and international organizations to achieve the intended results.

The Summit will not be a pledging conference, nor will it seek to create new funding mechanisms or additional bureaucracy. When the Summit is over, it will be up to each Member State, acting in total independence, to decide how best to achieve the objectives set out in the Plan of Action. The international organizations, NGOs and all sectors of civil society will be invited to join the international effort in a vast campaign to ensure food for all.

For its part, and in accordance with its mandate, FAO will do all it can to ensure follow-up to the Summit and implementation of the Plan of Action, working closely with its partners in the United Nations system. In line with the resolutions adopted in 1995 by the Conference of FAO and the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Committee on World Food Security will be the inter-governmental body responsible for monitoring progress and will report to the Council and Conference of FAO and, through them, to the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly.

The fact that one hundred or so Heads of State and Government have confirmed their attendance, that the preparatory discussions have been so open-minded, transparent and intense and that the media, politicians, industrialists and NGOs have shown such keen interest can only lead me to conclude that the Summit will be a success. But then, seeing what is at stake, how could it be otherwise?

The Summit casts a ray of hope on this celebration of World Food Day which is dedicated to fighting hunger and malnutrition. I wish to communicate this hope to all the farmers of the world, small and large, men and women, who battle each day against the constraints of nature, the markets and regulations to feed us. I am also anxious to communicate this hope to all the hungry of the world and to state my firm belief in a better future.

Thank you.

 

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