The Honourable Lyonpo Dago Tshering, Minister for Home Affairs of the Kingdom of Bhutan

It is my great pleasure and privilege to convey to you the good wishes of His Majesty the King of Bhutan, for a successful outcome of this august gathering. On behalf of my Delegation, on my own behalf, I would like to acknowledge the kind hospitality accorded to us by the Government and the people of Italy. And I wish to congratulate the Director-General of FAO and his staff on their commendable work for this Summit.

In recent years the concept of food security has been redefined in a fresh and comprehensive manner. It no longer simply means food supply. Today we believe that food security entails nutritional security, a sustainable livelihood, environmental development, human resource development, liberalization of economic structures and the involvement of the private sector. It also entails the maintenance of peace, the development of gender equality, the achievement of a sustainable rate of population growth and sustainable natural resource management, soil and water conservation and above all enhanced Official Development Assistance. All these are considered necessary for the creation of food security on this planet. Each of these topics has been the subject of numerous,indeed enough,conferences and of a wealth of documentation.

What we have lacked perhaps has been sufficient follow-through activity at the national, the regional and the international levels. Today there are growing signs that unless commitments are made now at this Summit and unless they are followed through, the goals of sustainable food security may again elude us. The conditions for world food security have changed since 1974 due to political, social and economic factors but the need for improving food security has not changed. Food is the very basis for all living beings but today we have come nowhere near achieving the cherished goal of Food for All.

Statistics do not reflect well on our situation. If the over 800 million people, of whom 500 million live in South Asia, facing food problems in the developing world were to be dying of hunger and malnutrition today, close to 1 522 people would die every minute. In the four minutes of my statement, about 6 088 would have perished for lack of food security. By the end of this Conference some 9 498 000 would have died. I think we can all agree that the root cause of food insecurity is silent poverty. Poverty is the primary disease. That is how we must think of it, confronting humanity as we approach the end of this millennium, yet this disease is not being combatted in proportion to its magnitude.

We must look forward to the day when each and every citizen of our planet can go to bed without fear of hunger. We, who are gathered here, must resolve to make that day attainable by our actions, and by policies and programmes that are appropriate to our local conditions and situations. The emphasis may differ from region to region, from country to country and among individual households, but we must all share the same goal. This Summit may be the last in the series of these Conferences but it is being held at a critical juncture. It offers us an opportunity to build upon earlier international initiatives for improving world food security. The time is ripe, as we approach the new millennium to think globally and to act locally. As Lucius Seneca said, and I quote "A hungry people listens not to reason nor cares for justice, nor is bent by any prayers".

In the Kingdom of Bhutan our people live in a simple, agrarian and largely Buddhist society in the extremely bio-diversified region of the Eastern Himalayas. Our approach to development has been cautious ever since we embarked on the path of social economic development in 1961. We accord greater priority to increasing gross national happiness than to gross national product. Our development policies and plans reflect this philosophy, we believe it safeguards the importance of the goal of a minimal level of food self-sufficiency which is currently set at 70 percent in key grains. Food sufficiency, we believe, is a pre-condition for the realization of all our long-standing goals of self-reliance. In keeping with our policy of self-sustainable development, the Royal Government has consistently accorded priority in every one of its five-year plans to the development and management of the renewable natural resources sector, crops, livestock, forestry. The eighth Five-Year Plan, which begins in 1997, is no exception as 85 percent of our population still depends on agriculture-related activities for its food security.

The Food Cooperation of Bhutan operates on commercial lines but protects the vulnerable members of our society from the uncertainties of the open market. With the assistance of FAO, we developed in 1994 a comprehensive food security programme for our people which will begin operation in July 1997 using a multi-sectoral and inter-sectoral approach.

Because of the wisdom of our forefathers and the foresight of our Sovereign, development in Bhutan has yielded good dividends without sacrificing our environment or our traditional human values. We believe an attack on poverty does not have to be an assault on our environment. Thus, we are fortunate to continue to enjoy a wholesome environment with over 70 percent of the area under forest cover and as much as 26 percent assigned to our system-protected areas. Fortunately the Kingdom at present enjoys full employment and an absence of hunger.

In conclusion, to achieve our goals, we in Bhutan have adopted a strategy of decentralization and of people's participation. This strategy involves the people in the realization of our cherished goal of self-reliance, whether in the securing of food security or in other development activities. We involve locally-elected representatives in the various stages of planning, implementation and management of programmes at the grassroots level. We consider the participation of the people in nation-building to be of the utmost importance. It is our way to help the people to fulfil their needs and aspirations by themselves. Our development partners have contributed substantially to the significant strides we have made in the field of social development, particularly in education, health, sanitation, physical infrastructure, hydroelectric development and human resource development. But, as difficult and as uncomfortable as it may be, we must never forget that all these advances are co-dependent on food security.

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