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Statement by He Changchui, Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific

Photo credits: Suthep Charoenbutr.

On behalf of Jacques Diouf, FAO Director-General and the staff of the FAO regional office in Bangkok and on my own behalf, I welcome you all to the Asia-Pacific regional observance of the 2005 World Food Day.

We are especially honored with the presence of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. We are grateful to you, Your Royal Highness, for your gracious acceptance of our invitation to preside over the World Food Day celebrations here at the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

The year 2005 commemorates the 60th anniversary of the founding of FAO in Quebec City, Canada, on 16 October 1945 and marks the 25th observance of World Food Day. The WFD theme Agriculture and intercultural dialogue emphasizes and acknowledges the fact that for thousands of years the world's farmers have developed the crop and animal genetic diversity on which our livelihood and food security depends.

Diversity is a natural law of the universe, and the diversity of cultures and civilizations is the result of this universality. Diversity is a cornerstone of our multinational society, particularly in this time of globalization. Dialogue among various cultures represents, first and foremost, a new paradigm in international relations, based on the realization that diversity is the ingredient of growth and betterment. Our reflections on the theme of intercultural dialogue will not only lead to a rediscovery of the fundamental ethical values of the United Nations organizations, like FAO, but may well emerge as the human face of globalization. In this regard, the meaning of dialogue goes much beyond the strict sense of an exchange of opinions among those who disagree. Intercultural dialogue should take place on an equal and democratic footing of mutual respect; it should be inclusive and non-discriminatory, particularly with regard to the poor, hungry and vulnerable.

While acknowledging agriculture as part of the world's common heritage, I should like to emphasize the forward looking call of the WFD theme, a call for the political will, strength of mind, determination and courage to address equity issues that are of fundamental importance - not only to the world's more than 800 million undernourished people but to all present and future inhabitants of our mother earth - concerning economic development and the improvement of living standards worldwide.

Hunger is a violation of human dignity and an impediment to social, political and economic progress. Millions of people do not have adequate access to food - how can they ever hope to realize their full physical and mental potential?

Freedom from hunger is a basic human right and together we have to act. The different and complementary approaches of many actors now need to be brought together in a broad-based alliance across cultures for both realizing and implementing this basic right.

Development agencies such as FAO provide countries with knowledge and policy advice as well as technical, financial and food assistance, and are instrumental in putting food security objectives into the development agenda. Voluntary guidelines that would "support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security" were adopted by FAO's Council following 20 months of often difficult, but constructive negotiations. They provide practical guidance to help countries implement their obligations relating to the right to adequate food, which is a fine example of one of the achievements of intercultural dialogue. Needless to say, of foremost importance is the call to action.

The global development conferences of the 1990s have provided important guidance in this respect, by formulating quantitative, time-specific development targets, including for food and nutrition. Countries can now set their own country-specific targets as a means for realizing the right to food.

Photo credits: FAO.

Of equal importance are civil society and non-governmental organizations which continue to have a very strong influence on the human rights agenda. They are often ahead of intergovernmental bodies in policies because of their different nature. Suffice to refer to the recent successes achieved by movements such as the anti-landmine coalition and band aid. They should be our strategic partners in intercultural dialogue.

Asia and the Pacific region is one of the most dynamic regions, characterized by both diversity and disparity - rockets and bullet cars, millionaires and desperation, luxury resorts and slums, the overnourished and the hungry - all exist side by side within and across the region. The more than 3 500 languages being spoken is just another indicator of the cultural diversity in the region. Unfortunately, the region still houses the majority of world's poor and hungry. The scandal is not that there are over 617 million poor and 543 million people undernourished. The real scandal is if we let poverty and hunger persist.

Let me thus reiterate my personal call today for an alliance against hunger as an indispensable mechanism for intercultural dialogue for achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals.

In this connection, I should like to emphasize the following quote from this year's WFD information note: "At the international level, many societies feel threatened by one form of intercultural dialogue: world trade. Poor farmers cannot compete in an international market place if their goods are shut out of richer countries, while subsidized farm produce from industrialized countries is sold at or even below production cost in poor countries. Many developing countries want to produce for export purposes, but will not reach their full potential until further dialogue among nations leads to a fairer trading system."

Recently, at the 2005 UN Summit, world leaders' reaffirmed their commitment on several key areas including the importance of meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Most relevant here is Goal number 1 which calls for halving poverty and hunger by 2015. We, and the rest of the UN family, believe that this goal for Asia and the Pacific region is not impossible to reach. However, as a recent UN and ADB report points out, it will require increased attention and commitment from all through investment, institutional changes and, in particular, reforming the way public services are delivered to reach the poorest and most marginalized citizens.

On the occasion of FAO's 60th anniversary, world leaders are adopting in Rome later today a declaration which states inter alia "that hunger should still reign on such a vast scale amidst plenty when its eradication is possible, betrays the vision of FAO's founders" - the vision to create a better world in peace.

Let us thus celebrate mankind's many achievements but let us also look beyond to the future with commitment and determination to do our part for bringing about further improvement in the livelihood of all our citizens with particular attention to the rural and marginalized poor.

Your Royal Highness, we look forward to your address and guidance for strengthening our resolve and determination for fair intercultural dialogue and fostering alliances aimed at eliminating hunger and poverty.

Thank you!

Photo credits: FAO/M. Griffin.

Photo credits: Kesara Aotarayakul.

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