, 11 June 2002 -- As world leaders arrived in Rome for the World Food Summit: five years later, leaders of grass-roots organizations from around the world kicked off their own five-day debate in Rome on Sunday as part of the NGO/CSO Forum for Food Sovereignty.
"We have groups from 92 countries here, but we have consulted other organizations at meetings held around the world over the last year or two. We are proud of our reach," said Sergio Marelli, chairman of the Italian committee of non-governmental and civil society organizations hosting the event.
The Forum is holding workshops on issues as diverse as genetically modified organisms, genetic resources, organic agriculture, land, water, food security and the rights of indigenous people. Participants will also debate a declaration and plan of action, which they will present to world leaders on the last day of the Summit.
"We want the governments to realize that what they have done is absolutely not enough to reduce by half the number of hungry by 2015," said Mr Marelli. "This forum is an occasion when non-governmental and civil society organizations can discuss the issues, but the big work is to lobby governments in our own countries. This is what we do every day."
Noting that "the G8 meets in two weeks in Canada," he added that "the declarations of both the Summit and our Forum can be presented to the most powerful governments, the ones who have the responsibility to stop this scandal of 800 million people in the world who are hungry."
The message from grass-roots groups has been distilled since their original communiqué to the 1996 World Food Summit, called "Profit for few or food for all".
"That was more of a shopping list," said Michael Windfuhr, executive director of Food First, a German human rights group, and author of the first draft of the Forum declaration. "This time we concentrate on three messages, which we feel is a further development in the analysis of the problem."
Pending a final vote this week by Forum delegates on the wording of the declaration, the three key elements it cites as key to a successful strategy to end hunger are the following:
a rights-based approach to hunger and malnutrition issues;
food sovereignty, or the right of people and countries to determine their own agricultural and food policies;
agro-ecological models of agriculture instead of industrial models.
Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni reminded participants that food insecurity is caused by lack of equitable access to food and the means of production. He called on rich nations to take concrete actions to eradicate hunger.
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf told the Forum on Sunday evening that "our meeting today is important to change the dismal record of the fight against hunger. Your mobilization and participation are indispensable. Your familiarity with reality, your creativity, your dedication, your networks can decisively accelerate progress towards the elimination of hunger in the world."
He noted in closing, "A politician once announced that States have no friends, but interests. In the face of the reasons of State, which are implacably driven by self-interest and market considerations, the NGOs represent the force of moral rejection, the last refuge of altruism and of human solidarity."