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Curriculum vitae of Dr Jacques Diouf


Statement by the Director-General
on the occasion of World Food Day and
TeleFood 2000

Rome, Italy, 16 October 2000



The Right Honourable Owen Seymour Arthur, Prime Minister of Barbados,
Your Excelllency, Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, Minister for Agriculture and Forestry Policies of Italy,
Your Excellency, Monsignor Marchetto, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
Ladies and Gentlemen,


On the occasion of the first World Food Day celebration of the new millennium, I would like to invoke both a vision and a challenge to the world community. The vision is a world in which every man, woman and child can be assured of having the food they need to be well-nourished and healthy, enabling them to develop to their fullest potential. The challenge I invoke is to make that vision a reality.

The world as a community must ensure equitable access to the most basic of life's requirements - food - which directly affects the welfare of individuals and the overall development of nations. The strength of a nation depends upon the strength of its people. When people are well-nourished, healthy and strong, they have the energy, creativity and security to work and learn, to solve problems, and to live their daily lives with dignity and joy, ultimately advancing mankind to new heights.

Not everyone has access to adequate food at all times. While significant progress has been made in the fight against hunger, the number of people in the world who are chronically undernourished and are unable to meet their basic daily energy requirements to lead an active and healthy life, is still unacceptably high. At the beginning of the third millennium, freedom from hunger remains an elusive goal for 820 million people and continues to undermine the socio-economic development of many nations.

Moreover, millions suffer world-wide from malnutrition due to the lack of essential vitamins and minerals, and millions more are at risk of problems caused by contaminated food and water. Access to sufficient supplies of a variety of good-quality, safe food persists as a serious problem in many countries, even where food supplies are adequate at the national level. In every country, some form of hunger and malnutrition continues to exist.

Many accept hunger as a grim but inevitable fact of life. This need not be the case; hunger and malnutrition are not inevitable in a world of plenty. Nor are they tolerable. We have the knowledge, technology and resources to make rapid progress in the global fight against hunger. It is primarily the lack of collective will that is preventing us from eliminating hunger. We must be firmly committed to reject the unacceptable and the intolerable.

Recent experience indicates that chronic hunger can be dispelled within this century. In the last few decades, significant achievements have been made in the areas of food supplies, nutrition, health and access to basic social services. As a result, the world's population is better fed, healthier, and lives longer than that of 30 years ago. The number of undernourished people in the world has declined from approximately 920 million in 1970 to the present level of 820 million. Global food supplies have outpaced dramatic population growth, with per caput food availability growing by 32 percent while the population increased by 2 billion people.

Hunger and malnutrition are the primary indicators of poverty which is being reduced through access to jobs, education, health facilities, sanitation, clean water and safe housing. All these elements in turn affect food security and the nutritional status of individuals.

The improvement of the life of millions of people is very encouraging. This fact is positive proof that we have the tools and the ability to address and overcome the major causes of hunger and malnutrition. Of course the positive trends are expected to continue. But will they continue at a rate sufficient to improve further the conditions of today's population and adequately provide for the next generations to come? Will additional improvements occur rapidly enough to alleviate the immense suffering of the millions of men, women and children afflicted by chronic hunger and malnutrition?

It is my ardent wish to reply "Yes" to these questions. However, we know that the current rate of progress in reducing the number of undernourished is not sufficient even to meet the World Food Summit goal of reducing by at least half the number of undernourished people by the year 2015, let alone surpass that goal. Clearly, we have much more to do and no time to waste if we are to make the vision of a world free from hunger become a reality.

How can this be done? There are no simple answers, but there are common approaches that have proven to be effective in accelerating progress. As a fundamental first step, the elimination of hunger and malnutrition must be adopted as a primary goal of national, social and economic development.

At the World Food Summit, governments and international organizations arrived at a consensus on key strategies for improving food security and nutritional status. They identified the major factors in world food security - poverty, constraints on food production, population growth, urbanization rates, changing dietary patterns, under-investment in agricultural research and rural infrastructure, conflict and instability, lack of priority to agriculture and rural areas in government policy and agreed to make concerted efforts in each and all of these critical areas.

It is time to begin aggressively pursuing the objectives set by the World Food Summit. Noble words and promises were transcribed into a framework of seven commitments, which now must be carried out. This will require the determination of governments, working alongside intergovernmental institutions, the private sector, NGOs and civil society, to create policies that will help achieve these goals. The processes governing such action must be focused on empowering today's food-insecure populations - the poor, and predominantly the rural poor. Governments must take action to correct the biased distribution of such fundamental services and assets as education, information, health care, employment, technological advances, credit, and land and water resources.

Investment in agriculture, the engine of economic growth in most developing countries, is fundamental for improving the plight of developing countries. Poverty alleviation programmes, targeted to the rural poor, are needed to bring the most destitute into the mainstream economy. Increasing access to land, technology, inputs and credit for rural women - who constitute 60 percent of the world's farmers - is a key to improving family nutrition, food production and income. Investment in people overall is needed, in the form of education, clean water and sanitation, health and social services, and when required, direct food and nutrition support.

I recall Commitment One of the World Food Summit Plan of Action, which states: "We will ensure an enabling political, social and economic environment designed to create the best conditions for the eradication of poverty and for durable peace, based on full and equal participation of women and men, which is most conducive to achieving sustainable food security for all." It is against this internationally agreed commitment that we should measure national and international efforts to combat the multiple causes of food insecurity and restore the basic human right to be free from hunger.

This year's World Food Day is a call for collective action to meet and surpass as quickly as possible the goal of the World Food Summit. On this World Food Day, I appeal to governments and all sectors of society to join with solidarity in the efforts to meet this goal. Together, let us insist upon eliminating hunger and malnutrition. Let us insist upon it as the first and most important potential achievement on our agenda. It is a challenge and an obligation for each and every one of us to contribute to creating and sustaining throughout the new millennium a world free from hunger.


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