1996 will hopefully be remembered as the year when the achievement of world food security was universally recognized as the most pressing challenge facing humankind. I am confident that the World Food Summit, which will gather this year in Rome representatives of the world's nations at the highest responsible levels, will serve this purpose.
That food insecurity, the oldest of humanity's concerns, remains the greatest contemporary problem would appear unbelievable, were it not for the shocking evidence before us. Yet, the idea of "food security first" still has to gain universal recognition, not only as a moral principle but as a matter of interest to all. Only when societies need not fear for tomorrow's bread can they meaningfully conceive of development and of establishing justice, peace, education or any other basic right.
In proposing the World Food Summit I was guided by the conviction that only the highest political authorities can tackle effectively the multisectoral dimensions of world food security and induce the mobilization of all partners in society towards reaching this objective. Indeed, technical and financial constraints can be overcome through strong and concerted policy commitment at national and international levels.
The earth can produce enough food to satisfy the quantitative and qualitative nutritional needs of every human being, at present and in the future - provided our resources are adequately managed and the benefits shared. As Mahatma Gandhi said: "there is sufficiency in the world for men's need, but not for men's greed". Immediate self-interest has often played a major role in creating or accentuating food insecurity, while also undermining our capacity to ensure sustainable food security for future generations. Yet, in this era of increasingly globalized influences and interests, generosity becomes self-serving in its ultimate effects. There is explosive raw material for chaos, violence and worldwide destabilization in the masses of destitute and food insecure. As John Steinbeck put it: "Must the hunger become anger, and the anger fury, before anything will be done?". On the other hand, there is immeasurable potential for worldwide gain in helping marginalized poor countries and people integrate into world economic and social progress.
Such causes for concern must be underlined in the light of some of the recent trends and developments highlighted in this publication. These include the declining trend in international development assistance, flows of aid to agriculture and food aid availability. Whatever the political, market or financial forces behind such trends, they have deleterious immediate consequences for many poor countries.
Another cause for concern has been the increasing evidence of economic hardship suffered in particular by the poorest segments of the population in many countries committed to macroeconomic stabilization and market-oriented reform. The potential for generalized welfare gain offered by market liberalization is by now universally recognized. However, we have often argued, and must repeat here in the light of the recent experience of many countries, that support to the poor segments of the population must not be allowed to fail, nor must the interests of the poor be neglected, on principles of market logic and economic efficiency. Examples exist to prove that policy emphasis on equity and human development, basic prerequisites for food security, can coexist with pressing financial problems and harsh economic realities. One such example, that of Burkina Faso, is discussed in this publication.
The scale and complexity of the problems underlying world hunger and malnutrition are such that their solution no doubt involves unprecedented effort. Can we do so in a climate of financial stringency and competing priorities? The physicist Kurt Mendelssohn noted the questionable motivations behind some of our most spectacular and costly achievements. He draws a parallel between the enormous efforts and resources devoted to the exploration of outer space and the monstrous sacrifice of sweat and toil made 5 000 years ago to build the Egyptian pyramids. If we are prepared to devote unthinkable effort, cost and commitment to space exploration and military preparedness, what is our justification for not doing the same for the most worthy of all purposes - eradicating hunger?
Turning to recent developments, this publication highlights a number of encouraging trends. The current general features of the world economic environment - steady growth, low inflation, dynamic trade and increasing financial and market integration - are propitious for agricultural production and trade. The vastly improved economic performances in much of Africa, particularly where agriculture is a major driving force, are a most comforting feature of the current economic and agricultural landscape. It is also heartening that several economies in transition have entered a path of positive growth. The resilience shown by the economic and financial systems of Latin America and the Caribbean to the Mexican crisis, the enduring momentum of reform, stabilization and integration and the climate of democratic consolidation and political stability raise expectations for the economic and agricultural prospects of the region. In spite of some deceleration from unprecedented highs, the growth of Asian economies has remained strong, with trade and financial integration proceeding at an astonishing pace. Efforts towards creating a new climate of peace and regional cooperation in the Near East can open new prospects for overcoming many obstacles to agricultural and rural development in that region.
Yet, none of these sources of satisfaction are unmitigated. The surge in commodity prices, which provided much relief to producers in agriculture-based economies, has already subsided for several important products, although expectations are for commodity prices to remain above the depressed levels of the 1980s. The improved economic conditions in many African countries must be seen in the context of a decade and a half of relentless regression that has brought much of the region to intolerable levels of economic and social hardship. Social stress has also mounted in several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, not least in rural areas affected by disappointing agricultural performances. The rapid economic expansion in Asia has been achieved, in many cases, at heavy environmental cost and the large income gap between urban and rural areas has widened further. Every day the news reminds us of the difficulties of maintaining the political and economic stability needed to pursue and strengthen reforms in the Commonwealth of Independent States and in consolidating peace and cooperation in the Near East region.
Such a mixed picture of positive and negative developments occurs against the background of deteriorating conditions for world food security. World cereal stocks are now at their lowest levels since the global food crisis of the early 1970s. Under the ensuing price increases, the low-income food-deficit countries are currently facing considerably higher food import bills.
Within the wide spectrum of factors affecting food security, those relating to macroeconomic and trade management play a prominent role. These are addressed in the special chapter of this publication, Food security: some macroeconomic dimensions, which discusses the critical role of governments in choosing the appropriate combinations of monetary, fiscal, trade, investment and social policies to create an economic environment that is conducive to the attainment of food security.
It is my hope that this publication, which outlines the major developments and issues that frame the current state of food and agriculture, will contribute to raising the necessary commitment to eradicate hunger along the principles and lines of action defined by the World Food Summit.