Rome, 9 June 2002

Distinguished Representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society,

I should like to begin by expressing my satisfaction at seeing you so numerous and so motivated on this occasion. Through the wide diversity of partners represented here, I wish to pay special tribute to those without whom nothing is possible - the farmers, growers, breeders, foresters, fishers, those hundreds of millions of peasant farmers on whom the food production of today and tomorrow depend. A scandalously high proportion of them are suffering, at this very moment, from poverty and hunger. The indigenous populations are particularly vulnerable and their access to natural resources needs to be safeguarded for their survival and for the conservation of endangered and fragile habitats. The women, who are key players throughout food production, from farm to fork, and who have to endure unjust and impoverishing discrimination, whether in law or in deed.

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.

Five years ago, the Summit decided to halve the number of undernourished by the year 2015. However, the number of hungry in the world is falling by 6 million each year instead of the 22 million required to meet this objective. Many countries, including the most populated, have posted a higher reduction in number of hungry than the minimum objective set. But, most developing countries have stood still and even seen an increase in number of hungry. What are lacking are the essential political will and mobilization of resources. Hunger, the cause and dramatic consequence of poverty, needs to be overcome immediately because it negates the most basic of human rights: the right to biological integrity that is the right to life.

The national and regional consultations and the studies that you have carried out, under the coordination of your International Planning Committee, have highlighted the essential issues which, in their broad orientations, correspond to FAO's Strategic Framework and the Plan of Action of the Summit of 1996.

Soon after the closing of the Summit of 1996, FAO began work with the High Commissioner for Human Rights to clarify rights relating to food. It also closely monitored the initiative that led to the Code of Conduct on the Right to Adequate Food, adopted by 800 non-governmental organizations.

FAO, for its part, has appointed a Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture, an independent group whose reports are made public.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sustainable agriculture, rural development and food security lie at the heart of the mission of FAO which provides its assistance to the advance of organic and ecological farming. It also organizes negotiations for international agreements and codes of responsible conduct for fisheries, forestry, land and water use, and the use of pesticides and other chemical inputs. Regarding new technologies, it advocates recourse to the principles of ethics, transparency and scientific evidence. It has further strengthened its food safety mechanism.

The Special Programme for Food Security implemented in 69 countries shows that significant progress can be made. By using straightforward and proven production methods, it is possible to respect the environment. But the poor rural communities need to be involved in the design and implementation of the projects that concern them.

The safeguarding of genetic resources as a human heritage for present and future generations is vitally important. The NGOs contributed widely to the formulation of the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, adopted in Leipzig. They play a key role in its implementation.

On 3 November 2001, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture was adopted by the Conference of FAO, after many years of intergovernmental negotiation. Its purpose is to ensure the conservation and sustainable utilization of these resources and the equitable sharing of the advantages resulting from their utilization. I pay tribute to the contribution and support of many NGOs during the course of these negotiations.

The small farmers of the developing world are tired of seeing their efforts to improve their productivity undermined by the constant decline in commodity prices brought on by OECD country support to their agricultural sectors, to the tune of 1 billion dollars a day. Nor does this support not go to the small farmers, herders or fishers. In one of the large countries, 50 percent of the support goes to the 8 percent of farmers who have an annual income of more than 100 000 dollars. Another portion goes to allied sectors, notably the transport and storage industry and the manufacturers of inputs and finished goods.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Your contribution to the work of the Summit will take many forms, through your thematic debates, your intervention in plenary session, your participation in the multistakeholder round table and your final Declaration.

I should like to take this opportunity to launch a solemn appeal for closer and more productive collaboration among FAO, the non-governmental organizations, civil society and the small farmers' organizations. The document FAO Policy and Strategy for Cooperation with Non-Governmental and Civil Society Organizations, which was prepared in consultation with you, sets out possible principles and modalities for such collaboration. This needs to be realized in the field, in our reflections, in the efforts to inform and sensitize public opinion, and in the campaigns to mobilize resources.

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.

How many OECD Heads of State and Government have made the journey to this Summit of the poor? Two out of 29. If we exclude certain exceptional national circumstances, we still have a good indicator of the political priority that is given to the tragedy of hunger.

You, the NGOs, can do much to change this immoral world order by participating in the "International Alliance against Hunger". You are the Vox Populi, therefore the Vox Dei.

Thank you for your kind attention.


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