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Curriculum vitae of Dr Jacques Diouf


Statement delivered at the World Food Day Ceremony
Rome, Italy, 15 October 1999

Your Excellency, President of the Slovak Republic,
Your Excellency, Prime Minister of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau,
Your Excellency, Minister of Agricultural Policy of the Italian Republic,
Your Excellency, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to FAO,
Excellencies Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the main messages of the World Food Summit held in Rome in November 1996 was that the fight against hunger and malnutrition is not only a matter for governments. Without wishing to exonerate political leaders from their responsibilities in this regard, civil society must quite clearly be fully engaged if food security programmes are to be successful. And of all the constituents of civil society, youth are without doubt the most dynamic, the most innovatory and, at the same time, the least likely to tolerate the unacceptable persistence of hunger as we enter the 21st century.

While the world produces enough globally to feed its six billion inhabitants, hunger still persists, with 790 million people in the developing countries who are without access to sufficient food. Yet substantial progress has been made in recent years, with the number of chronically undernourished in developing countries falling by 40 million between 1990 and 1997, in spite of a rise in the world's population. While there is every reason to rejoice over this reduction, we also have to note that this was due to the combined efforts of just 37 countries, which collectively managed to reduce their undernourished populations by 100 million. Regrettably, the number increased by 60 million elsewhere. Unless significant steps are taken to improve global and national food supplies and overcome such disparities, undernutrition could affect 30 percent of the population of some countries in 2015.

The situation is worrying even in the developed countries. For the first time, the Organization has aggregate statistics for these countries which indicate that 34 million people are undernourished.

If we are to achieve the objective of the World Food Summit to reduce the number of undernourished to 400 million by the year 2015, more accelerated progress is required, mustering all our collective energies. This is precisely where the more than one billion young people aged 15 to 24 come in, for they constitute a force, a potentially huge source of energy that must on all accounts be tapped and mobilized to ensure sustainable development, especially in the agricultural sector. By dedicating this World Food Day to youth, FAO has sought to draw attention to their pivotal role in the fight against hunger.

National leaders and international development strategists need to be made aware that resources invested in youth today will pay short- and long-term dividends, and that the general concern to find urgent solutions to immediate problems of national development should not overshadow the role of youth in the future. These people are active members of society, who should be given the opportunity and the means to express their views on the major issues that weigh on our consciences.

Youth of all social circumstances and in all countries should and must play a part in the fight against hunger. They can overturn the existing state of affairs if informed of all the aspects and consequences of hunger and malnutrition. A large proportion of young people are more than willing to devote their energy and attention to local, national and global efforts to overcome hunger. This was quite apparent at the International Youth Forum, which brought together 500 young people from 130 different countries on the occasion of the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996. Today, the network linking these young delegates in some 80 countries testifies to their determination to enhance world food security, as set out in the Summit's Plan of Action.

In the developing countries, many of the 250 million working children and adolescents aged between 5 and 15 are employed in agriculture, helping directly to tend the fields, the kitchen gardens and the livestock. Their efforts and sacrifices need to be recognized and highlighted, so that they can be alleviated without in any way undermining household food security.

We need to draw more deeply upon the intrinsic idealism, creativity and energy of youth. For more than 30 years, FAO has focused its support on rural youth in the developing world and has achieved notable successes, although there is still much to be done.

An estimated 472 million young people aged between 15 and 24 live in the rural areas of developing countries &endash; young people who have much to contribute towards the objective of the World Food Summit.

But enlisting such support is hampered by the adversities facing too many young people: unemployment, disease, alcohol and drug abuse, violence, social exclusion, criminality and the breakdown of families are just some of the serious aggressions they suffer. And rural youth are no longer isolated from such problems, which had hitherto been largely confined to urban and peri-urban areas.

Another worrying trend is the large and growing migration of rural youth in developing countries to urban areas and to other countries in search of a better life. Rural food security is seriously compromised by their desertion, by this exodus that drains the countryside and often deprives local communities of their most energetic, capable and gifted inhabitants &endash; the very human resources that are so desperately needed to safeguard and improve food production systems.

Surveys confirm that young people are not only attracted by the "city lights" but that they also hold agriculture in low esteem as an activity and way of life. Most rural youth would appear to equate agriculture with hard work, low income and poor employment opportunities. Even those who would otherwise have liked to stay find themselves leaving because of inadequate access to land, water, inputs, credit and agricultural extension services. There is an urgent need to intensify programmes aimed at improving conditions of life for rural youth, especially young women and men without schooling.

This is the mission that FAO has set itself. These programmes are essentially based on direct training in agricultural techniques, enabling the young to acquire the skills they need and reinforcing family and community ties, thereby helping to build the sustainable agriculture and socio-economic framework that are so vital to the balanced development of a country.

One of the key features of programmes for the advancement and fulfilment of youth is the promotion of actions to help rural populations master and apply modern technologies, to enhance agricultural productivity in a sustainable manner.

Another important dimension is the identification and mobilization of resources allocated directly to the young to finance such activities. With this in mind, the young need to be taught to identify and formulate their requirements in such a way that these are taken into account by the public authorities. Acquired communication and leadership skills will also enable them to play a decisive role in vitalizing community groups.

Finally, programmes aimed at young people in rural areas seek to foster inspirational activity and the satisfaction of personal and collective objectives, so that they may be driven by that most formidable of human motivations: hope.

These programmes can also strengthen family ties as they offer a natural role to all family members. Parents often set the example or volunteer to lead groups that include their children. The experience of grandparents is passed on to their grandchildren at training sessions, focusing on the transfer of irreplaceable traditional know-how, particularly as related to the ecological and social environment, and to ancestral &endash; but often still contemporary - agricultural practices.

At the same time, training these young people in a rural environment can help change attitudes and modes of behaviour towards the rural world and its components and, in particular, strengthen the status and role of girls and young women in the community, which is another significant contribution to food security.

The young are generally more willing than adults to accept and promote environmentally sound practices and have shown their willingness and ability to exercise considerable influence in this area. Youth educational programmes on ecology should therefore lead on to large-scale practical applications.

These same programmes also familiarize the young with strategic planning so that they can have a clear idea of the objectives to be achieved if their performance in agricultural production and food security and that of the community as a whole is to be enhanced. Thanks to communication and exchange networks and to the reinforcement and dissemination of such programmes, the young will be better able to express their aspirations and engage in constructive dialogue with local and national authorities.

Programmes targeting rural youth in developing countries can therefore have a notable impact and can provide many young people with the chance to contribute significantly to the national objectives of food security.

In addition, rural youth networks should be actively encouraged and supported as a way of facilitating cooperation and the exchange of information and experience among the young of an entire country, an entire continent and our entire planet.

FAO, for its part, is doing its utmost to develop these networks and its collaboration with international and regional organizations for the realization of the full potential of rural youth, in support of world food security. The Organization is an active member of the United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Youth, a partner of the World Youth Forum of the United Nations System and a contributor to implementation of the System's World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond.

The Organization's Medium-Term Plan for the period 2000-2005 places greater emphasis on rural youth. This additional thrust will bolster activities of technical support to governmental and non-governmental organizations working with rural youth. Such activities involve strategic planning, formulation of policy guidelines, establishment of partnerships, vocational and volunteer training, and technical assistance in areas of FAO's mandate.

The launching of the "Food for All Campaign" in follow up to the World Food Summit provides an effective vehicle for closer dialogue between government and the different sectors of civil society to identify appropriate actions against hunger and poverty. In this regard, I want youth organizations to know that FAO is determined to support any initiative in this direction and strongly encourages the creation and/or reinforcement of national committees by civil society itself to increase its influence, and especially that of youth, in decisions that relate to the fight against food insecurity.

Let us hope that the young will identify with the theme of this year's World Food Day and make themselves heard through their own means of expression, that many talented young people of all opinions and cultures will participate actively in the TeleFood concerts and share their enthusiasm and hopes with millions of their peers through the universal language of music. May the theme "Youth against Hunger" of this last World Food Day of the 20th Century serve as a renewed opportunity for youth in the developed and developing world to reaffirm their common desire to see a new millennium free from hunger.

Thank you.


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