World Food Summit: five years later reaffirms pledge to reduce hunger

Success will require political will, resources, technology, and fairer trade

Rome, 27 August 2002 -- The World Food Summit: five years later, which ended 13 June, called for an international alliance to accelerate action to reduce world hunger. It also unanimously adopted a declaration calling on the international community to fulfil an earlier pledge to cut the number of hungry people to about 400 million by 2015. That pledge was made at the original World Food Summit in 1996 - the largest-ever global gathering of leaders to address hunger and food security - and progress towards it remained disappointingly slow.

The World Food Summit: five years later, attended by delegations from 179 countries plus the European Commission -- 73 led by heads of state or government or their deputies -- also called for:

  • an intergovernmental working group to develop voluntary guidelines to achieve the progressive realization of the right to food
  • reversing the overall decline of agriculture and rural development in the national budgets of developing countries, in assistance provided by developed countries, and in lending by the international financing institutions; and
  • considering voluntary contributions to the FAO Trust Fund on Food Safety and Food Security.

The Summit also offered a forum for all 'stakeholders' in the fight against hunger -- government officials; farming, forestry and fishing communities; NGOs; the young; and indigenous groups. More than a dozen side events provided opportunities for delegates to discuss topics ranging from the role of rural women in feeding the world to FAO's activities in emergency situations. In addition, a parliamentarians' meeting, a private sector forum, and a forum for non-governmental and civil society organizations took place in parallel to the official event.

Member Nations divided into three round tables to review progress in reducing hunger since 1996. Constraints highlighted included insufficient water supplies, lack of access to technology, inadequate investment and depletion of natural resources. Two constraints stood out -- lack of political will and lack of resources.

But the decisions taken in the FAO Plenary Hall during the three-and-a-half day event were supplemented by other important results. One outcome was an additional 45 signatures on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, bringing the total to 56 countries plus the European Community. Adopted by the FAO Conference in November 2001, it aims at conservation and fair and sustainable use of plant genetic resources. It also provides for farmers' rights.

A billion dollars a day...

The issue of trade dominated many of the official and unofficial discussions. The report of one round table meeting noted pointedly that "OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries provide a billion dollars a day in support to their own agriculture sector, six times more than all development assistance." Another round table report commented that "the annual loss of income to developing countries from lack of market access exceeds US$100 billion."

The diverse groups represented at the Multi-Stakeholders' Dialogue debated extensively on issues such as trade, biotechnology, patenting of life-forms, pollution, food safety and the decline in family farms. They called on FAO to encourage more dialogue amongst stakeholders in general.

FAO presented the Anti-Hunger Programme during the Summit. FAO pointed out that money saved by cutting subsidies could pay for part of the Programme, which calls for US$24 billion in additional public investment by developed and developing countries. These funds would be used for on-farm improvements such as irrigation, better seeds, conservation of the natural-resource base for food production, improvements in research and extension, upgrading of rural infrastructure, improved market access and special provision for people in particular need.

The role of the private sector

But investmentbythe privatesector is also needed to end hunger. This is a point FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf made to the forum of representatives from the private sector, organized by the Italian agriculture federations Confagricoltura, Coldiretti and Confederazione Italiana Agricoltori, at which the participants expressed their support for FAO's efforts. Reporting on the Private Sector Forum to the Plenary session of the Summit, Augusto Bocchini, President of Confagricoltura, said that the participants thought it was quite possible to develop agriculture and agro-industry in the least-developed countries, provided that private enterprise worked in concert with the public sector and international organizations.

The Forum also emphasized the importance of infrastructure development, and of freedom from conflict and power struggles. Mr Bocchini noted that the private sector was very conscious of the role it could play in confronting poverty and poor food security. On behalf of the Forum he called for joint action between the private and public sectors on a range of areas including vocational training and technical cooperation.

The contribution of parliaments

The parliamentarians' meeting, too, expressed strong support for the aims of the Summit. Organized by the Italian Inter-Parliamentary Group and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), it was opened by the Speaker of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera, who also highlighted the need for good governance and an end to conflicts as key elements in the drive to end hunger. The right to food, and the need to enshrine it in national legislation, also figured in this forum's discussions.

Reporting to the Summit Plenary on behalf of the meeting, the Speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Pierferdinando Casini, delivered the participants' message to the Summit. Its points included:

  • The right of everyone to adequate nutrition
  • The need for urgent international measures to reduce the number of hungry by half by 2015
  • The need to secure terms and conditions conducive to food security in multilateral trade negotiations.

The forum of NGOs/CSOs

Taking place parallel to the Summit was a lively forum of non-governmental and civil society organizations. Organized independently of the Summit, the NGO/CSO Forum for Food Sovereignty was attended by around 1 600 people representing over 700 organizations from 92 countries, including farmers, foresters and fisherfolk from the developing world.

In their address to the Summit, representatives of the Forum expressed disappointment about the results achieved, as well as alarm at "the privatization and commodification of communal and public land, water, fishing grounds and forests." They called for an international convention on food sovereignty, emphasizing the right to food; access to land, water, forests and fisheries; and the protection of local seeds. They also called for a moratorium on genetically modified organisms.

Regional strategies for food security

The side events organized for the regional economic organizations to discuss the respective regional strategies for food security proved to be extremely successful. They were characterized by expressions of regional visions and expectations with regard to such areas as agricultural trade facilitation, food safety measures and regional support to national efforts for the alleviation of hunger and poverty in rural areas. The different regions also expressed the desire to follow up on the constructive dialogue with further consultations with the donors and relevant financing institutions.

Women, water and other key food security topics

The role of rural women was the topic of a key side event, which highlighted the fact that women produce much of the world's food yet lack access to the fundamental tools of food production - land, credit, training and decision-making power.

Another meeting heardabout the importance ofsmall-scale technologies such as water harvesting, as well as the importance of producing more "crop per drop" and more "dollars per crop" -- choosing high-value cash crops that deliver more income per unit of water.

One event briefed delegates on the higher levels of hunger and malnutrition found in mountain environments. FAO serves as lead agency for the International Year of Mountains 2002, focusing attention on the particular challenges in protecting ecosystems, promoting peace and stability, and helping people in mountain areas advance.

Other side events discussed other key FAO activities:

  • Restarting food production after emergencies
  • The Special Programme for Food Security, which supports the use of simple implements and sustainable methods to boost food production. It also promotes cooperation between developing countries
  • Regulation of food safety and international food trade
  • Prevention of cross-border transmission of plant and animal diseases
  • Dissemination of agricultural information via the World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT)
  • Food production in school and hospital gardens
  • TeleFood outreach activities to fund grassroots projects and raise awareness.

Most of these events took the form of presentations, followed by extensive and lively discussion.

New focus on rural development

Two side events demonstrated how rural development is being seen as a high priority the world over. First, the World Bank presented its new rural development strategy, which will increase the percentage of resources devoted to rural development. The strategy calls for the Bank to invest in the whole rural economy, not just agriculture, and depends on target states providing an environment in which agriculture is not overtaxed and has sufficient priority in development.

Another event presented the agriculture policy of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), an initiative by 15 African States to kick-start African development. Drafted with technical assistance from FAO, the NEPAD agriculture programme anticipates investment of US$240 billion by 2015. Initially, African countries are expected to contribute 35% of the annual total investment, with this figure rising as their economic stability increases.

As the Summit took place just before the G8 meeting in Kananaskis, Canada, the members of NEPAD's Implementation Committee took the opportunity to meet and prepare for it at high level, with heads of state or government in attendance. The Kananaskis meeting later highlighted the importance of NEPAD as a vehicle for the future of the continent.

"Together with terrorism, hunger is one of the greatest problems the international community is facing," said Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Chairperson of the Summit, at the closing ceremony. FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, noting the 1996 World Food Summit goal of a reduction by half of the number of hungry people in the world by 2015, said, "There is a large global consensus on measures to fight hunger. I am still optimistic that the target can be reached by 2015. It is in the interest of all countries to establish a more equitable world."
View of FAO Plenary hall during the Summit

View of FAO Plenary hall during the Summit

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FAO, 2002