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Statements

Curriculum vitae of Dr Jacques Diouf

 


"Youth against Hunger"
Message on the occasion of World Food Day and TeleFood 1999

Rome, Italy, 16 October 1999



Today, on the occasion of the nineteenth observance of World Food Day, we celebrate the fifty-fourth anniversary of the founding, in Quebec City, Canada, of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

This year's World Food Day and TeleFood theme - "Youth against Hunger" - has been chosen both to underline the role of young people in the fight against hunger and malnutrition and to provide a strategic opportunity for their involvement in the campaign to achieve food for all.

Youth make up approximately 17 percent of the total global population. In developing countries, they often represent an even larger percentage of the total number of people, especially in rural areas. Currently, around 472 million young people between the ages of 15 to 24 live in the countryside. By 2015, the world youth population will be about 1.4 billion persons. That is 1.4 billion young people who could be mobilized to fight hunger and to achieve the World Food Summit goal of reducing by half the more than 800 million hungry and chronically undernourished people.

It is, therefore, important that we take youth issues into consideration when we set the development agenda, and when we formulate policy at the national level. This is particularly so in agrarian and semi-urban societies, where young people help whenever they can with the work of producing food for subsistence. Similarly, in areas of civil strife, or where AIDS is taking a high toll, households headed by boys and girls have become a grim reality and are dramatically increasing in number. The role youth play in agricultural production for food security, under these conditions, is of paramount concern.

Hunger and chronic undernutrition are obstacles to human life. When a person lacks physical or practical access to safe, nutritious and healthy food at all times, the consequences are disastrous. In the case of young people facing hunger and malnutrition, their plight is further exacerbated by the intertwined issues of illiteracy, poverty and unemployment, which in turn block access to education, basic skills training and employment.

With futures so often uncertain in their rural communities, many young people have joined the ranks of those migrating to urban centres or even abroad. Another important factor contributing to this migration is the low regard that young people have for agriculture as a profession. As cities swell with these unskilled newcomers, a whole range of urban, social, environmental and political problems intensify, such as rapid slum growth, drug trafficking, unemployment, and crime.

The first step in breaking this negative spiral is to focus on the basic issue of eradicating hunger and malnutrition. We have the knowledge and technology to do so, as well as the global capacity for efficient and sustainable food production. But what is also needed is education, awareness building and the strengthening of formal and informal social organizations to help young people to put their hands on productive services and resources necessary for food production.

The challenge which thus faces our generation is to ensure that our youth, be they in developed or developing countries, play a more meaningful role in ensuring food security. In the industrialised countries, this can be accomplished by participating, as part of the vast array of government and civil society institutions and organizations, in promotional and fundraising activities against hunger. For those even more committed, young people can also be involved as policy advocates in the dialogue with their governments as part of a broad campaign to achieve food for all.

In the developing countries, the challenge is to meaningfully involve youth as active partners in food security and agricultural production activities, by overcoming constraints such as lack of land, access to credit and other production resources; lack of education and training for on-farm and off-farm employment, and by providing for income and asset-generating activities in the rural areas. There is also a need to organize groups of young people, as part of the community empowerment process, to enable them to obtain access to extension and other support services provided by governments, non-government organizations, and the private sector.

As in the past, this year's World Food Day observance provides an opportunity for governments and all sectors of civil society to come together to review progress made in the follow-up to the World Food Summit. It also provides an occasion for dialogue and for mobilizing various sectors of civil society in the fight to eradicate hunger, poverty and malnutrition. By drawing attention to the problems and possibilities of youth, we sensitize policy and decision-makers to the needs, priorities and potential contribution of young people in food security endeavours.

World Food Day celebrations will kick off today with The World Food Day ceremony at FAO Headquarters, as well as numerous TeleFood events organized around the world, and culminate in a five-hour gala concert in Jamaica to be broadcast globally on 4 December. Over the last two years, the yearly TeleFood global telecast has been watched by more than 500 million people in all continents, many of whom responded the the TeleFood message of "Food for All" by contributing to the TeleFood Fund. The donations received have gone to support simple projects that directly help poor male and female farmers, including young farmers, to produce food, improve nutrition and generate incomes to provide a higher quality of life for themselves and their families and communities.

It is my hope that by drawing world attention to the contributions of Youth against Hunger, this World Food Day will serve as a benchmark in the World Food Summit Goal of halving world hunger by 2015. In this manner, we can make a start in paying our obligations to the next generation by ensuring, in the coming millenium, a world free from hunger.

 

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