Rome, 2-13 November 2001
STATEMENT OF THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL
Mr Chairman of the Conference,
Mr Independent Chairman of the Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This Thirty-first Session of the Conference is taking place at a time when the terrible events of 11 September have rocked the tranquillity and certainties of so many people in the world. The international community as a whole has firmly condemned the acts that caused the death of many innocent victims. Alas, this tragedy has plunged the world into a period of political, diplomatic and economic turbulence. And a new zone of military confrontation is thus added to the other regions of our planet where conflicts endure. Of course, this is a painful setback in the construction of an international environment of peace and security. Of course, anxiety and despondency now colour the sentiments that are expressed, especially in the media. But solidarity and a sense of fraternity must continue to prevail over division and exclusion. Today, more than ever, it is important, it is imperative, to step up the fight for human rights, the most fundamental of which remains the right to food - mindful that poverty and inequality are fertile ground for the seeds of intolerance and violence.
World Food Summit: five years later
This session of the Conference was to host the World Food Summit: five years later, where the leaders of the world at large were to examine progress in the fight against hunger and to determine measures needed to accelerate the process.
But keeping to the original date was no longer appropriate given the present international situation. However, for the 815 million people who do not have access to sufficient food, including some 300 million children left to their sad fate, it is not acceptable to delay for too long the initiatives needed to achieve the objective set by the World Food Summit in 1996.
I should therefore like to pay homage to the Council which has understood the ethical and political dimension of the problem and has thus decided that the Summit of Heads of State and Government will be held next year from 10 to 13 June.
The challenges facing the Organization
The problems that face the Organization in the medium term are extraordinarily complex. In a context of food insecurity for the poor, the environment of our weakened planet is even more susceptible to the damaging impact of drought and flooding, of hurricanes and earthquakes. Food safety is threatened by transboundary plant and animal disease, large-scale deforestation and forest fires contribute to changes in climate, ocean currents unleash fierce storms, and violations of international codes of conduct bear upon natural resources.
State of food and agriculture
Although world agricultural production continues to mount, its estimated increase of 1.2 percent for the year 2000 is the lowest since 1993. This slowdown reflects a reduction in growth of plant and animal production in both the developed and the developing countries. There are many factors behind this: unfavourable climatic conditions and impact of internal conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa; slowdown of production in Asia and the Pacific; persistent drought in the Near East and North Africa. Cereal production, for its part, has recorded a major fall of 1.6 percent. And the outlook for the year 2001 is just as bleak. The latest indications are that there will be a further reduction of 1.4 percent, arousing fears of a substantial drawdown of stocks.
Even more worrying is the number of countries facing severe food shortages. There were 34 such countries in September with an affected population estimated at 60 million people.
Animal production on the other hand is experiencing remarkable growth in the low- and middle-income countries and is expected to double within the next twenty years. However, such optimism is tempered by growing concern over the insufficiently controlled development of intensive animal production in the industrialized countries.
Trade and WTO
Guaranteeing the full, fair and fruitful participation of all parties in a global system, that is open to all, is a common responsibility.
The WTO negotiations on agriculture have been ongoing for more than one year. After six years, implementation of the Agreement on Agriculture resulting from the Uruguay Round of negotiations has had mixed results. It has undoubtedly helped to modify instruments of domestic and trade policy, but tangible changes in levels of support and protection for the sector have not been sufficiently deep to permit competitive world trade in agricultural products.
FAO has recently made proposals to reinforce the impact of the Marrakesh Decision, notably through the establishment of a revolving fund to help countries facing sudden increases in their food import bills.
Food quality and safety
The advance of plant and animal disease has been facilitated by the increase and acceleration of trade, especially with the higher level of trade in fresh produce and live animals. The spread of mad cow disease and, even more, of foot-and-mouth disease are clear examples of this. These problems, together with the emergence of pathogen bacteria in foods that are resistant to antibiotics have concentrated minds on the need for better control over food safety.
Hunger and food insecurity
The tragedy of hunger in a world of abundance and waste continues to be a troubling reality. According to the latest estimates, the number of undernourished persons in the world amounts to 815 million: with 777 million in the developing countries, 27 million in the countries in transition and 11 million in the industrialized countries. During the 1990s, the number of undernourished persons in the developing countries fell each year by a totally inadequate average of 6 million. As a result, the number of persons suffering hunger will now have to be reduced by 22 million each year if we are to achieve the World Food Summit objective by 2015. At the present rate, it will take more than 60 years to reach this objective.
To be effective, the battle against hunger and poverty will therefore have to be waged on two fronts. In the case of crises caused by climate or conflict, immediate targeted food aid will have to be provided to the affected populations. But the only lasting solution is to help poor rural communities to do without food aid by increasing their own production, first for on-farm consumption, and then for the market.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Partnerships and mobilization of resources
FAO is not able and does not intend to deal single-handedly with the international problems of food and agriculture. The search for broader partnership to reinforce the capacities of the Organization and to open it to the outside is one of the underlying principles of its method of operation. This is also an important aspect of the Medium Term Plan, which calls for partnership agreements with multilateral and bilateral aid organizations to establish long-term coherent cooperation in selected spheres of agricultural and rural development.
This approach is consolidated by cooperation mechanisms and specific agreements with several Member Nations. Cooperation with international financial institutions has focused on giving priority status to the agricultural sector in the fight against poverty. It was thus that these organizations were invited to participate in the High Level Panel on Mobilization of Resources for Food Security and for Agricultural and Rural Development.
FAO is also working closely with IFAD and WFP, especially in preparing the International Conference on Financing for Development, which will be held in March 2002.
The Organization has continued to help its member countries formulate investment projects. A total of 65 projects prepared with substantial input from the Investment Centre were approved in 1999-2000, representing a total investment of close to 3.25 billion US dollars, including 2.1 billion as external loans.
In addition, FAO is multiplying its initiatives to identify and attract private sector partners for long-term cooperation.
The last biennium also saw increased contact with non-governmental organizations and civil society. The document "FAO Policy and Strategy for Cooperation with Non-Governmental and Civil Society Organizations" was published last year, setting out guidelines.
Decentralization and Field Programme
The capacities of existing offices have been strengthened to enable them to absorb a gradual transfer of responsibility in implementation of operational projects, a process that began at the end of 2000 and aims to reduce project implementation costs. At present, the FAO Representatives are managing 60 percent of the Field Programme.
The Conference will examine the text of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources in order to adopt a convention on this subject.
After more than seven years of negotiations, under the outstanding chairmanship of Ambassador Gerbasi, I need hardly underline the importance of this agreement for food security.
I am aware that the text before you still includes brackets that could not be removed, despite talks until the very last moment. But I venture to hope that you will succeed in overcoming these differences.
The Conference will be called upon to examine new paragraphs of the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides. The Organization, with UNEP, provides the secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention, which should come into effect in the next biennium. Innovatory programmes will help reduce pesticide residues in the food chain at the level of the different regions of the world.
The ongoing preparation of the first report on the state of animal genetic resources will allow the international community to assess the situation, in a context of rapid erosion of potential, and will be useful for a sustainable intensification of production.
The "Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000", which is accessible on the Internet, provides the fullest and most recent evaluation of the state and trends of forest resources in the world. It includes maps that provide a synoptic overview of global forest cover.
The Organization continues to be actively involved in international debate on forests, having notably supported the creation of the UN Forum on Forests whose work it encourages.
As lead agency in the exercise of inter-agency coordination for the International Year of Mountains 2002, FAO is actively promoting the objectives of sustainable development of mountain areas.
The Committee on Fisheries has recommended the setting up of a new Sub-Committee on Aquaculture in consideration of the growing contribution of this sector to fisheries production.
Recently, FAO and the Government of Iceland, with the co-sponsorship of Norway, successfully organized the Reykjavik Conference on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem. On the recommendation of the Council, the declaration of this Conference will be presented to you during this session.
Finally, I should like to recall that last June, the Council endorsed an International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.
Information for food and agriculture
FAO has continued to develop the World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT), one of the most important sources of information in this field, available in five languages and accessible on the Internet. The Organization also makes every effort to relay the information it contains through all available media, especially the electronic media.
Plan of Action on Gender and Development
Gender inequalities play a decisive part in the continuation of poverty and food insecurity. The Conference will therefore examine the FAO Plan of Action on Gender and Development 2002-2007 to place rural women at the heart of the Organization's deliberations and work.
Ethics in food and agriculture
Debate on agricultural practices in the developed countries and their impact on public health goes further than the economic and financial dimension; it raises existential issues and questions the ethical validity of choices made in the interest of consumers. A Panel of Eminent Experts was therefore set up to discuss these matters, meeting for the first time last year. Its work should help to enrich the reflections of member countries and more generally the international community on this subject.
Special Programme for Food Security
The Special Programme for Food Security (the SPFS) has continued to expand in the field. Out of a total of 95 countries asking to participate, Phase I or the micro-economic phase of the Programme is now operational in 66 of these countries and under formulation in a further 17. Farmers have learned and adopted simple low-cost technologies, and crop yields have very quickly doubled or more. Small animal production, fisheries and aquaculture have helped to diversify activities, to provide additional sources of protein and to improve cashflow in poor rural communities. Farmer incomes have significantly increased, resulting in better living conditions.
The South-South Cooperation scheme, which is based on solidarity between developing countries, has very quickly become central to the effective implementation of the Special Programme. To date, 23 agreements have been signed on the basis of which the more advanced developing countries will provide 2 300 experts and field technicians to work in the beneficiary countries for two to three years. Seventeen further agreements have been formulated and will be signed in the near future.
The SPFS line of the Regular Programme is still limited to 10 million US dollars, representing less than 2 percent of the budget. It is supplemented by funding requests to the TCP in accordance with the latter's specific modalities. Bilateral donors and international and regional financial institutions continue to support the Special Programme. Out of a total of 290 million dollars mobilized for the SPFS, about one half has come from the beneficiary countries themselves, testifying to their confidence in this approach.
However, the SPFS has not been able to cover all the low-income food-deficit countries, nor to include the recommended number of rural communities and activities in each country. Nine hundred million US dollars would be required for the Programme to be properly implemented in all the low-income food-deficit countries.
As regards TeleFood, which was launched above all to raise public awareness of the need to combat hunger, this has also helped to finance small projects among poor rural communities. So far, it has funded more than 960 projects in 113 countries for a total of just over 6.8 million dollars of the 7.8 million collected.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Programme of Work and Budget
The task ahead is immense. Doing always more, doing always better, but always doing with less - that has been FAO's paradox these last six years. During this period, huge efforts have been made to reduce the Organization's operating costs, to make it more streamlined, more modern, more flexible. Since 1994 numerous measures have been taken to reduce not only factor costs but also operating costs. The savings from these efforts have been estimated at 50 million dollars each year and have been directed towards the new priorities of the Organization and towards maintaining its normative and operational capacities.
No other UN Agency has been placed under such stringent budgetary constraints; 650 posts have been eliminated. But there are limits to everything and we cannot go on indefinitely in this direction.
FAO's Medium Term Plan for 2002-2007, which has been approved in concept by the Council, shows indicative growth of 9.6 percent for the first biennium. The Council also asked that this plan be used as the basis for preparing the Programme of Work and Budget. Yet, certain Member Nations that, at the Committees on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, called for more resources to be allocated to these respective sectors, then went on to exclude any increase in overall budget.
It is not possible to achieve the set objectives without providing the means. FAO requires adequate resources to perform its role properly and to carry out its mandate from the Member Nations. It requires these resources to provide information and statistics; to develop quality standards and norms for environmental conservation and facilitation of international trade; to draft international agreements that will ensure that our planet's natural resources are used sustainably.
FAO also requires resources for the transfer of know-how, for that is also its mission. But that means conducting pilot projects, for how can know-how be transferred on a theoretical basis? Identifying the technologies needed to increase productivity in rural areas means working under the real conditions of farmers. It means working alongside small farmers and herders, artisanal fisherfolk and small forest operators.
There are now 815 million people in the world who are undernourished. A totally unacceptable situation. Yet the Organization that is supposed to mastermind the solution to this problem, with all its complexities and ramifications, sees itself allocated a budget equivalent to 40 cents a year for each undernourished person.
The Member Nations must assume their responsibilities in the face of a challenge that is primarily political and ethical; for it is a question of political will and nothing else. What price, what priority, do we attach to the right of every human being to sufficient food?
Of course FAO only plays a modest role in financing the fight against poverty. But 70 percent of the poor live in rural areas and constitute the bulk of those that have migrated to become the urban poor. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has a duty to speak out, loud and clear, on behalf of the silent multitude of hungry people in the world.
Is it not high time that certain countries renounced their policy of zero nominal growth of budget for this Organization? Is this not the time for courage in deciphering the messages from a world under profound change? Is this not the right moment to make a symbolic - but so very significant - gesture in response to the desperate calls of the weak? I know that you are capable of such political vision and such human generosity for the benefit of those in greatest need.
Thank you for your attention.