Thirtieth Session

Rome, 20-23 September 2004



His Excellency Chaturon Kaisang, Deputy Prime Minister
Mr. Chairperson
Distinguished Delegates and Observers
Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of the Director-General, I am pleased to welcome you to this 30th Session of the Committee on World Food Security. We are honoured to have among us today His Excellency Chaturon Kaisang, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand. Excellency, it is indeed a pleasure to welcome you and to express our gratitude to you for agreeing to deliver the keynote address this morning. Thailand has made remarkable progress in reducing poverty and hunger – and many countries could benefit from understanding the successful elements of this progress. I am also very pleased to welcome Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel laureate, who will deliver the Second CFS Distinguished Lecture on Food Security this afternoon. We are also honoured to have him with us today.

This Committee, open to all Member States of the United Nations, has played a key role in defining and elaborating national and international approaches to overcome food insecurity. Your work in monitoring progress towards the primary objective of the World Food Summit, to reduce the number of undernourished people by half by 2015, is now more important than ever. In fact, the major part of the Agenda for this Session is dedicated to reviewing progress made to date in the implementation of the World Food Summit Plan of Action.

Regrettably, this progress has been disappointing and slow. FAO estimates that some 842 million people worldwide remained hungry by the end of the 1990s (1999-2001). This includes 798 million in developing countries, 34 million in the countries in transition, and 10 million people in industrialized countries. Sadly, the number of undernourished people in developing countries declined by only 9 million from the WFS baseline period (1990-1992). The current slowdown in the pace of hunger reduction suggests that the WFS goal will only be reached if annual reductions accelerate to 26 million per year. This is more than 12 times the pace of 2.1 million per year achieved to date.

Some countries steadily reduced hunger since the early 1990s. Globally, the number of chronically hungry people declined by over 80 million over the decade – but this success was attributable to only 19 countries. Larger developing countries, such as Brazil and China, successfully reduced their number of chronically hungry people. These two countries did, however, have moderate numbers of undernourished people at the outset. But even smaller countries where hunger was more widespread, such as Chad, Guinea, Namibia and Sri Lanka, were also successful. In the second half of the 1990s the number of undernourished declined in 22 countries, including Bangladesh, Haiti and Mozambique. Regionally, Latin America and the Caribbean also showed sustained declines in the number of undernourished over the same period.

Significantly, incomes grew five times faster in those countries that successfully reduced hunger, compared to countries with less successful track records. The most successful countries also had higher growth rates in their agricultural sectors, more peaceful political environments, slower population growth rates and a lower incidence of major diseases, including HIV/AIDS. These countries not only reduced poverty and food insecurity, but also demonstrated improvements in important social indicators, childhood mortality, maternal mortality, access to clean water and other social services.

However, for most developing countries, the 1990s was actually a decade of increasing poverty, hunger and despair. Global progress in reducing hunger slowed. After falling by 37 million during the first half of the 1990s, the total number of hungry people in developing countries actually increased by 18 million in the second half of the decade. Regionally, the number of undernourished people increased in sub-Saharan Africa, the Near East and North Africa. In fact, hunger worsened considerably in 49 countries, while the number of undernourished increased by 60 million in another 26 countries over the same period.

Countries where hunger increased faced more natural disasters, food emergencies and higher rates of HIV infection. Drought and other natural disasters remain the most common cause of food emergencies, although an increasing number are now due to civil strife and war. The countries that faced food emergencies, such as drought-prone Southern Africa, or pre-famine conditions, such as Eritrea and parts of Ethiopia, have typically experienced severe, chronic food shortages for a decade or even longer. Countries heavily dependent on income from agricultural exports, such as coffee producers in Central America, also suffered sharp declines in international prices that triggered food emergencies. Currently, 35 countries - of which 24 are in Africa - are faced with exceptional food emergencies, either resulting from economic shocks, civil strife or adverse weather conditions. One positive development in terms of food security has been a decline in the number of human-induced conflicts since 1999.

An additional, and major, cause for concern this year is the threat posed by locust infestation in North West and Western Africa. Significant crop damage has already been reported. And, although control operations are already underway in the affected countries, these operations are constrained by insufficient resources. FAO has appealed to donors for US$100 million to support the affected countries in their efforts to control the locust outbreak, yet thus far pledges have amounted to US$37 million only. We urgently need to control the spread of this infestation. Many of the affected countries in North West and Western Africa will face severe food supply shortages if we do not collectively act to halt the infestation.

FAO has always stressed that eradicating hunger is first and foremost the primary responsibility of national governments. However, there remains insufficient investment in the agriculture sector. Also, there are technological constraints which result in low agricultural productivity. Unreliable rainfall and insufficient water for crop and livestock production are very serious problems, often resulting in highly variable seasonal outputs. And the lack of off-farm employment opportunities contributes to uncertainty and low incomes, making it difficult to purchase food. Yet, there is significant evidence that investment in hunger reduction through agriculture and rural development results in high economic and social returns.

In 2006 this Committee, as the primary UN body responsible for monitoring the World Food Summit Plan of Action, will undertake a mid-term review on progress to reduce the number of undernourished people. Given the currently slow pace of hunger reduction and increased numbers of food emergencies, it could take decades to eliminate chronic hunger worldwide. This is simply unacceptable. Thus, we would respectfully urge this Committee to present specific practical recommendations to stimulate national and international measures to ensure that the WFS goal is attained. These measures, for consideration at the next Session of the CFS, would support the preparations and planning of the mid-term review – which need to start soon.

In closing, actions to help eradicate poverty and food insecurity in developing countries, such as increased financial resources for agriculture and rural development, more favourable trade policies or a lasting solution to the debt problem, would be tangible signs of global commitment toward the realization of the World Food Summit goals. Globally, we need greater political and financial commitment dedicated to agriculture and rural development, including increased commitment to reducing hunger and poverty at the national level.

On behalf of the Director-General, I wish you successful deliberations.

Thank you.