Director-General of FAO - 13 November 1996
Text of the message
(to view the video click on the image)
Honourable President of the Italian Republic,
Distinguished Heads of State and Government,
Mr. Secretary-General of the United Nations,
Honourable Heads of Delegation,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, as we gather here in the Eternal City, the cradle of Latin culture at the crossroads of the great flows of human civilization since the time of the Caesars, it is not by chance that the peoples of the world should assemble, as in the time of Trajan's Forum, in their shared quest for solidarity in front of the ruins of the Palatine, resplendent in their imperial majesty.
Our meeting, then, takes place under the humanistic auspices of History, Art, Philosophy and Culture.
This is important, for the underlying significance of this first World Food Summit would be lost to us, were we to view it solely through the distorting prism of technology, economics and policy.
It is only appropriate that the leaders of the international community should have journeyed to Rome:
Firstly, because we all belong to one human race, each of us with the same rights and obligations, where "each person is all persons", to cite the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges;
Secondly, because the advance of communications has turned today's world of 5.7 billion men and women of all ages into a planetary village;
Thirdly, and especially, because the platonic ideal of the "just state" is deeply ingrained in the hearts of all human beings, for as Confucius taught us, "a person of virtue places justice above all else".
Thus, the "Rome Declaration" submitted for your approval draws from universal principles that are rooted in ethics.
It reaffirms "the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food".
It considers "intolerable that more than 800 million people throughout the world, and particularly in developing countries, do not have enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs".
It pledges "our political will and our common and national commitment to achieving food security for all... with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015".
It also specifies that "food should not be used as an instrument for political and economic pressure".
But ethics without practical application only lead to the sterile formalism and abstractionism of scholastic thought.
So the moral principles had to be given substance in the form of a plan of action.
Seven commitments were therefore negotiated to ensure that "all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food".
This will entail:
- ensuring an enabling social and economic environment;
- implementing policies aimed at eradicating poverty and inequality;
- pursuing participatory and sustainable development practices;
- fostering a world trade system that is both fair and market oriented;
- anticipating natural disasters and crises;
- encouraging the optimal application and use of public and private investments;
- implementing, monitoring and following up the Plan of Action.
Yet these so commendable international decisions risk turning sour if, when taking stock in a few years' time, we see that hopes have been dashed, unless measures are taken here and now to mould these decisions into national projects and programmes.
National, because operational decisions have to be taken at the country level. It is only there that changes can be made, in terms of quantity and quality, that will move the indicators of food security forward and open the way for development options that will conserve the already over-exploited natural resources and guarantee social equity in the distribution of the fruits of agricultural growth.
That is why the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations will be working with its Member Nations in building an appropriate framework for concrete action. It has in fact started to prepare the ground for this colossal undertaking with its partners in the United Nations system, the international financial institutions, the bilateral and multilateral agencies and the non-governmental organizations.
The Special Programme for Food Security which was adopted by the Member Nations to spearhead the fight against rural poverty in the 82 low-income food-deficit countries, is already underway in 15 countries, and will soon be extended to others. It should help raise productivity through the transfer of appropriate technology and safeguard production thanks to the harnessing of water and the construction of small irrigation schemes with the involvement of rural communities.
The programme will thus serve as a central thrust in the implementation of policies to increase food supplies in countries that lack the means to purchase their food shortfalls on the international market.
This programme has already been given new impetus and wider scope by the support of several developed countries and the participation of advanced developing countries under South-South cooperation. As more funds become available, its activities will move from the participatory aspects of production to the technical and socio-economic issues of storage, marketing, processing, land ownership, access to inputs and products and, finally, employment.
The Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases, which presently focuses on rinderpest and the desert locust, should help protect the rewards of farmers' labour. The sustainable development programme of Agenda 21 of the Earth Summit is the last component of the three-pronged strategy to reverse the cruel fate of the victims of hunger, malnutrition and poverty.
However, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations was required to function better and to adjust to a new environment if it was to deserve the trust that its Member Nations placed in its ability to play a decisive role in the only battle worth waging: the fight for life and for the consolidation of peace. And that is what the Organization has been doing for almost three years, with the help of its governing bodies and by changing its priorities, structures and policy.
In a few days, a first evaluation of this effort will be submitted to distinguished personalities from different parts of the world and cultures, with a view to submitting it later to Member Nations. It will therefore be a revived and revamped Organization that, with your help, will take up the challenge of world food security as we enter a third millennium, which could be a time of conflict over water and food unless we take the necessary care.
We could, of course, question the chances of success of such an initiative, when the world's governments would appear to accept, without much compunction, a reduction in the budget of the Organization of the United Nations system that they have entrusted to help over 800 million people suffering from hunger and malnutrition; a budget that in fact amounts to less than what nine developed countries spend on dog and cat food in six days and less than 5 percent of what the inhabitants of one developed country spend each year on slimming products to counter the effects of overeating.
There is also no denying that the lights and shades of selfishness, scepticism and cynicism sometimes cloud the bright paths of hope, but the glimmerings of generosity, confidence and goodness always shine through in the end in the radiant splendour of the miracles of conscience which, to cite the French essayist Alain, always distinguishes what "is" from what "should be".
So it is with faith that, under the celestial skies, we look to the future, sharing the conviction of the German philosopher Kant who in the "Metaphysics of Morals" wrote that "all the praises of the ideal of Humanity, viewed in its moral perfection, remain untouched by the examples to the contrary, showing what humans are, what they were and what they will probably be".
We are convinced that the two-and one-half years spent preparing this Summit and drafting the technical documents on the many aspects of food security have given a more informative picture and raised awareness among public opinion and policy makers.
Moreover, the participatory process forged dialogue with our many partners:
- the governments, the technical ministries in charge of agriculture, fisheries, forests and water, but also the ministries for the economy and finance, trade, transport, infrastructure and industry which have drawn up national papers on food policy and, in each part of the world, a regional position for the global negotiation.
- the parliamentarians, "Vox populi, vox dei" who, through the Inter-Parliamentary Union, have played an invaluable role and will also be meeting in two days' time to add to the debate and search for solutions.
- the private sector, producers and trade associations, consumers and intermediaries, the key players in the agricultural commodity market, who have been involved throughout the discussions and one branch of which will be meeting at a round table tomorrow.
- the non-governmental organizations, who are in daily contact with the reality in the field and whose disinterested and assorted contributions have been crowned by a meeting that began on Monday.
- the young, humanity's future, who took part in an essay competition on food security and who will attend a forum from Friday.
Finally, all these actions have been extensively covered by the media who, with their arsenal of resources, have brought the tragedy of hunger and poverty into the homes of the world's wealthy.
It is on this raising of awareness and awakening of conscience that we rest our belief that the rich countries will eventually direct their assistance towards prevention, so as to limit costly crises such as those which, alas, are casting such terrible gloom over the Great Lakes Region of Africa, crises that could have been avoided with appropriate development programmes.
So much effort must surely have an effect on attitudes and behaviour, on perception and understanding of the scale of the tragedy of the hungry, whose voices so often go unheard.
So much effort must surely give a salutary, redeeming jolt that will drive forward a vast worldwide campaign to ensure "food for all".
That is why I should like first of all to pay tribute to you. By being here, you have shown that the despair of the deprived and of the vulnerable, particularly the women and children, is worth the expense of your journey and a little of your precious time.
In doing so, you have shown that "you are not indifferent to the human condition" and that the issue of determining how to feed 3 billion additional inhabitants in the year 2030 amply justified convening a Summit of Heads of State and Government, for the first time in the fifty years of existence of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
I should also like to thank His Holiness Pope John Paul II for his message of faith which is so important in a day and age when money and the market seem to be the overriding values.
My gratitude also goes to the Government of Italy for its unstinting political, diplomatic and material contributions which have been so decisive for the success of this Summit.
I am of course immensely grateful to the Member Nations and our development partners for all their help and for the strong support and encouragement they have given us in often difficult times.
I should also like to express my pride at being at the head of the FAO staff who have worked so hard behind the scenes to make this event a success. Without their skill, efficiency, dedication and self-denial none of this would have been possible.
But, above all, I should like to say how fortunate I am to have been surrounded by the warm affection of my wife and children. Without their love and patience, I would never have found the necessary energy and composure to embark on organizing a world summit.
Finally, Honourable Heads of Delegation, you will understand if I urge you to envisage, as of now, the measures that will be needed to give practical expression to the professions of faith and commitments that are made at this Summit.
By approving the "Declaration of Rome" and the Plan of Action two weeks before the Summit, the Committee on World Food Security of FAO has given you, for the first time in the history of United Nations summits, the opportunity to focus not on reaching consensus but on identifying the concrete actions that each intends to conduct so that the commitments solemnly made before the international community can be maintained.
May this World Summit, no doubt the last of the century, indeed of the millennium, be an occasion for you to reawaken a sense of reassurance and strong hope in the hearts of those suffering.
May you, the leaders of this world, refute the thoughts of the German philosopher Goethe when he affirms that men of action are always without conscience, and that there is only conscience in the thoughtful.
By demonstrating your compassion so powerfully, here in the birthplace of one of the most outstanding of civilizations, you will be confirming the relevance of the words of the Greek philosopher Protagoras, "Man is the measure of all things", the measure of the existence of things that are and the measure of the non-existence of things that are not. Thank you for your kind attention.