One of humanity's greatest achievements in the twentieth century has been to produce enough food to meet the needs of a global population that has grown at unprecedented rates - doubling from some 3 billion to over 6 billion in the past 40 years alone. This very success, however, has bred unwarranted complacency. It has meant that the spotlight of international attention has shifted away from food issues, except during fleeting moments of crisis - for instance when, while the world celebrated the new Millennium, 13 million people were brought to the brink of famine in the Horn of Africa and "mad cow" and foot-and-mouth diseases struck the livestock industry of Europe.
FAO's mandate requires that it take rapid action to respond to such crises, and it does so. But the Organization has a more fundamental mission in assuring the safety and long-term adequacy of world food supplies and in making sure that all humans have enough to eat every day of their lives. The crises have served to remind us of the extreme fragility of the global food situation on which humanity's survival depends. They should also make us reflect on the perennial factors that make so many food-insecure people vulnerable to starvation when shocks - whether droughts, floods or conflicts - strike.
World food security ultimately depends on how successful hundreds of millions of farmers are in harnessing nature, in producing food of good quality in amounts surplus to their own needs, and in having this conveyed through a complex web of market connections and distribution channels to consumers, rich and poor. Given its extraordinary complexity, one can only marvel at how well the global food system operates. But it also faces enormous challenges, such as those posed by increasing doubts about the sustainability and safety of the technologies on which agricultural growth over the past century has been based, by the competing demands for scarce freshwater resources and land, by the potential impact of climate change on land use and on the frequency of catastrophic meteorological events, and by the heightened risk of an increasingly rapid spread of crop and livestock pests and diseases that comes with the globalization of trade.
The first chapter in this volume reminds of us of the extent of some of these New challenges to the achievement of the World Food Summit goals. It touches briefly on what FAO, together with its members and partners, has been doing to address these challenges in the five years following the 1996 World Food Summit. Some progress has been made, but the sheer breadth of the agenda is daunting. There remains a yawning gap between the enormity of the threats that these challenges pose to long-term world food security, if they are not addressed in a timely manner, and the limited size of the effort now being made to confront them. One only needs to compare the costs of controlling large-scale outbreaks of livestock diseases with those of containing the threats at source to appreciate the benefits of up-front investments in prevention. Yet, to our dismay, there is little sign of any serious commitment on the part of our members to invest in the adequate provision of the global public goods that are required to safeguard world food security and safety in the longer term.
Nowhere has the gap between intent and determined action been more visible than in the failure of most of our member countries - developed and developing - to fulfil their solemn commitment, made at the World Food Summit in 1996, to take the measures required to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015. All the evidence indicates that there are almost as many hungry people in the world now as there were five years ago and that the resources set aside to address hunger have been falling rather than rising.
In FAO, we remain absolutely convinced that the Summit target is still attainable and affordable. We believe that it is imperative to match the remarkable achievement of producing adequate global food supplies with the assurance that no person will ever again be hungry. We recognize that there are technical and distributional dimensions to the challenge, but we know these can readily be resolved provided that there is the political will to achieve the objective and that this is reflected in an adequate mobilization of resources. It is on these two themes, therefore, that the second and third chapters in the volume - Fostering the political will to fight hunger and Mobilizing resources for agriculture in support of food security - focus.
We have seen during recent months a growing awakening to the dangers to global peace and stability posed by widening inequalities between and within nations in an increasingly interconnected world. Chronic hunger is the most poignant manifestation of extreme poverty and one that breeds either resignation or desperation. And so it is hardly surprising that so many of the conflicts that emerged to undermine world stability in the last decade of the twentieth century and which continue to reverberate in the new Millennium had their origins in regions and countries facing chronic food shortages.
The seriousness with which governments of both developing and developed countries have approached the International Conference on Financing for Development provides evidence of the growing acceptance that it is in everybody's interest - rich and poor alike - to move quickly towards a more just and equitable world through the timely achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Together with the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme, FAO has sought at Monterrey to make the case for a much higher level of investment in food security and rural development, arguing that reducing hunger is not merely a moral imperative but that investing in cutting the incidence of hunger also makes good economic sense. We have sought to demonstrate that the fast rates of economic growth to which most developing nations aspire are simply unattainable as long as large numbers of their people are undernourished and deprived of the opportunity to learn and to work to their full potential.
Let me leave readers with these few thoughts.
First, that there is a moral obligation on each of us to see that all our fellow humans enjoy their right to adequate food.
Second, that hunger is as much a cause as an effect of poverty.
Third, that getting rid of hunger is, therefore, an essential first step in the quest for poverty alleviation and sustainable economic growth.
Fourth, that widespread hunger can only breed hopelessness, desperation, conflict which knows no boundaries: it is in everyone's self-interest to banish hunger from the world.
Finally, that it lies well within our technical and financial capacity to see that everyone is adequately fed: the persistence of hunger on a vast scale, therefore, represents a glaring failure of our increasingly globalized society and institutions to address the most basic of human needs that must - and can - be urgently remedied.