His Excellency Robert G. Mugabe, Executive President of the Republic of Zimbabwe
Mr. President, it is my pleasure on behalf of my delegation to extend to you and your Government our most sincere appreciation of your offer to host this historic Summit. We also commend the Director-General of FAO, Dr. Jacques Diouf, and his staff for their sterling efforts in preparing for this Summit.
This Summit has been necessitated by the continued deterioration of the world food situation with an incredible 800 million people, most of them women and children, chronically undernourished. It is even more depressing that the majority of these people are in the developing world, with Africa being the hardest hit continent. Barely two decades ago, the landmark World Food Conference of 1974 saw the establishment of the World Food Council and laid the foundation of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. These developments bore testimony to the commitment by the international community to fight against hunger, starvation and malnutrition. We had hoped at that time that these problems would be adequately addressed, yet we gather once again to seek to redress the same problem that now threatens the lives of even larger numbers.
At the global level, serious imbalances exist in the management of accessibility to food. Whereas food reserves may be in abundance globally it is sad to note that almost 200 million children under the age of five suffer from acute or chronic protein and energy deficiencies. A dramatic contrast exists between some nations battling with shortages causing famine whilst others are struggling with surpluses. In certain cases, some people in one country have plenty of food while others in the same country struggle with hunger and famine. Such a dichotomy points to the need for serious efforts at both domestic and international levels to review policies and practices that might have militated against the provision of, and accessibility to, adequate food.
Hunger and malnutrition result in untold human suffering and degradation and mankind must not fail to address the most fundamental human right, namely, the right to life. Hunger, poverty, and disease are wolves that devour the lives of both children and grown-ups. Only in Rome and about Rome do we know of wolves that suckled babies, and then only in legend. But perhaps it is the lesson of the legend, the lesson of survival, the survival of children, the survival of our society that has attracted all of us here, so we can seek the survival of our society, the survival of mankind.
Africa has experienced starvation and hunger-related deaths. That painful and tragic reality has been worsened by the economic austerity programmes adopted by many of our developing nations. Even as we adopt economic reform programmes, hardship continues, persists and people continue to starve.
May I take this opportunity to share with you my own country's experiences in its efforts to achieve food security. Agricultural policy in Zimbabwe has over the past sixteen years, following the attainment of our independence, focused on a national food security strategy directed at the production, storage and distribution of food to the nation. Due to agro-ecological reasons, food shortages are endemic in some parts of my country but Government has always made sure that appropriate mechanisms are in place for food aid to such areas.
Like other countries in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe has experienced a number of serious droughts, with those of 1992 and 1994 to 1995 being the most devastating. Those drought situations have taught us a number of lessons, among them the indispensability of an early warning system, the need for strategic reserve facilities, continued research efforts in traditional food crops, the need for medium and large-scale water conservation schemes and general national preparedness. Accordingly, given the changing weather patterns, priority is being placed on improving water harvesting techniques for irrigation farming schemes. We remain cognizant, however, of the need to take into account the economic viability and ecological sustainability of irrigation farming.
In order to cushion the low income household against the negative effects of the economic reform programme, a Social Dimension Fund was created to facilitate assistance to the small-scale farmer through seed and fertiliser packs as start-up packages to boost their agricultural activities.
These government efforts have been generously augmented by NGOs, particularly in those areas with endemic food shortages for a variety of reasons. These organizations have targeted specific groups such as children under the age of five, expectant mothers and the aged in the affected districts. External donor organizations and governments have contributed immensely, not only in the critical food area by purchasing large stocks of food during drought years, but also in the funding of longer-term programmes for increased food production. Through these approaches the food availability equation at the household level has been achieved to a great extent, even though efforts are still being made to improve the household food situation.
In an effort to increase the contribution of smallholder farmers to food security, my Government encourages smallholder farmers to adopt a more commercial approach towards agriculture. An important component of this approach has been a major institutional restructuring with changes in credit, extension services, research and marketing institutions, the benefits from which have already started to accrue as demonstrated by statistical improvements in the production volumes of the smallholder agricultural sector where rural peasant farmers have become the major producers of maize, small grains and cotton.
Zimbabwe, however, still faces major constraints inhibiting agriculture from realising its full potential. High on that list of constraints is the question of access to land, resulting from imbalances in the asset ownership structures inherited from past colonial policies. The inherited smallholder farming areas are, for instance, characterized by low rainfall and poor soils and are located far from the market and transport networks. In order to correct these imbalances, my Government is pursuing a policy of land reallocation and resettlement of vast sections of communal smallholder farmers.
That policy also involves investment in basic infrastructure such as roads, water supply, irrigation and electricity, social services (education and health facilities).
The key objective in the agricultural sector under Zimbabwe's economic reform programme is to expand supply by overcoming bottlenecks through improved resource allocation, trade liberalization and domestic deregulation. Emphasis has been placed on a partnership trust with the private sector, Government playing a major role in the establishment of an enabling liberalized environment to facilitate agricultural production and marketing.
The process of real market development has been strengthened by the liberalization of both input and crop marketing. The old single-channel marketing system and government-prescribed producer and selling prices have now been broken up and market forces now dictate the prices. That policy approach has encouraged private entrepreneurship and promoted an atmosphere of competition reinforced by a new institutional framework that coordinates public and non-public sector efforts. And I know that this is also the process in most African countries.
My Government has, in the recent past, set up a task force on food and nutrition to provide us with strategies for increased food nutrition security without compromising economic growth. The proposed National Food and Nutrition Policy for Zimbabwe will be an important tool for my Government in harmonizing economic growth, agricultural production, industrialization and improved food and nutrition security.
At the sub-regional level, Zimbabwe has the honour of being charged with the coordination of the Southern African Development Community Food Security Programme within the regional economic community of SADC. The overall objective of that regional food security programme is to increase agricultural production for the achievement of food self-sufficiency in the Southern African region. Within that broad objective, the region aims at improving regional food self-reliance. We are confident, Mr. President, that through partnership our sub-region will achieve the envisaged goal.
In my country, research into traditional food crops suited to the ecological conditions of the various agricultural regions has been instituted through our research and specialist services. Through this policy it has been possible to develop drought-tolerant crops for our drought-prone areas.
May I, in conclusion, reiterate the need for a concerted domestic regional and international commitment towards the achievement of sustainable food regimes at all levels. The Plan of Action that we have just adopted is our starting point. If we are sincere in our commitment to the objective of Food for All and genuinely committed to achieving the objectives of this Summit, FAO as the coordinating body must, now more than ever before, be fully supported by all of us, the nations of the world. Not only has the Organization received a significantly reduced budget for the current biennium but it is also owed more than US$ 200 million by Member States. Some of these Member States clearly have the capacity to pay but lack the political will to do so. We are today being called upon at this Summit to re-dedicate ourselves to fulfilling the dream and ideals of the United Nations global food security and Food for All. My country and, I believe, my region are prepared to do so.