H.E. Romano Prodi,
President of the Council of Ministers of the Italian Republic
and Chairman of the World Food Summit - 13 November 1996
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Distinguished Heads of Delegation,
Mr. Secretary-General of the United Nations,
Mr. Director-General of FAO,

First of all I should like to thank the Summit for the honour it has shown me in appointing me Chairman. I am also grateful for the choice of Rome as site for the conference that I have the privilege of opening today and that I hope will prove to be historic.

Then I should like to recall the major conferences convened by the United Nations over the past five years to deal with the primary challenges facing the world as we enter the third millennium: the Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, the International Conference on Nutrition in Rome, the Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, the Fourth Conference on Women in Beijing, and the Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) in Istanbul.

The World Food Summit in Rome is the last link in this dialogue, which the United Nations has initiated in keeping with its terms of reference, its composition and its universal vocation, a dialogue that addresses the important issues of the social, economic and human progress of present and future generations. In conveying a special word of thanks to FAO for having taken on the task of convening and organizing this conference, I should like to emphasize the Organization's ability and willingness to assume special responsibilities in implementing whatever decisions we may reach.

I believe I speak for all of us when I express the hope that our work will produce ambitious conclusions, as well as specific commitments aimed at securing far-reaching results. Today's emergencies reflect problems that we shall meet again in the future. And I would at once cite one that has recently been rousing public opinion throughout the world: the dramatic worsening of the situation in the Great Lakes Region, to which the Security Council of the United Nations itself drew international attention a few days ago, inviting its Member States to undertake humanitarian action. I strongly hope that this action will be carried out rapidly and decisively, and for my part shall do all I can to this end, so that the suffering of the victims can be alleviated without further delay.

The subject of food security is central to the sustainable development that we all see as a primary, compelling objective for the international community. The problem is becoming increasingly complex, and can no longer be treated outside a global perspective, if the various components of the food security equation are to be clearly seen. This complexity is reflected in the Plan of Action that we have the task of defining and must also be fully reflected in the resulting commitments that we shall assume.

We are all well aware of the three basic components of what we refer to as "food security": availability of food, stability of food supply, and access to food. We have to act on all three fronts. Hence the need for a series of actions.

Firstly, we have to do all we can to guarantee and develop agricultural production while maintaining the environmental balance. This entails marshalling the necessary human, financial and scientific resources.

Secondly, we have to pursue the struggle against poverty. This includes a commitment to education and training, human development and a special focus on the role of women, in a context that will ensure the protection of human rights, democracy and good governance.

This is why I believe that food security is the bedrock not only of development policy, but also of every programme for social equity, political stability and universal human dignity.

I am confident that the intense work we are starting today will lead to the adoption of a Plan of Action to be applied at local, national, regional and global level. In this context, we count on the reflections and experiences of all the countries and bodies represented here. The problem is complex, and the search for solutions involves many different players, each with specific responsibilities. The United Nations system, and within it FAO in particular, will implement appropriate cooperative actions, but these will have to be backed by the national policies adopted by the Governments - for each country has the right and duty to decide the course of its own development and establish the conditions for economic and social growth focused on sustainable development and promotion of the human person. In this perspective, the conclusions of the present Summit will serve as a point of reference for future discussions on global issues. I am thinking in particular of the Conference of the World Trade Organization to be held in Singapore in December.

The contribution of all the components of civil society will be essential if public and private resources are to work together. In this connection, I would express deep appreciation for the meeting between FAO and over 200 non-governmental organizations from over 70 countries held in September in preparation for this Summit. I should also like to extend our warmest greetings to the NGOs also presently gathered at a major forum here in Rome.

Let us recall the inalienable right to be free of hunger and malnutrition, as solemnly proclaimed in this same city by the 1974 World Food Conference. Let us recall and reaffirm this right, as we set ourselves the aim of halving the number of undernourished people in the world by the year 2015, in other words within one generation. History will one day judge us on our resolve to fulfil our duty to future generations.