From the podium

From the podium


ADDRESS BY UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL Mr Kofi Annan

Prime Minister Berlusconi, Heads of State and Government, Director-General Diouf, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

At the World Food Summit here in Rome in 1996, the international community set the goal of cutting by half the number of hungry children, women and men by 2015. Nearly a third of that time has already passed and progress has been far too slow.

We have no time to waste if we are to reach our target, which is also, one of the Millennium Development Goals agreed by world leaders in September 2000.

Every day, more than 800 million people worldwide – among them 300 million children – suffer the gnawing pain of hunger and the diseases or disabilities caused by malnutrition. According to some estimates, as many as 24 000 people die every day as a result.

So, there is no point in making further promises today. This Summit must give renewed hope to those 800 million people by agreeing on concrete action.

There is no shortage of food on the planet. World production of grain alone is more than enough to meet the minimum nutritional needs of every child, woman and man. But while some countries produce more than they need to feed their people, others do not, and many of these cannot afford to import enough to make up the gap. Even more shamefully, the same happens within countries. There are countries which have enough food for their people and yet many of them go hungry.

Hunger and poverty are closely linked. Hunger perpetrates poverty, since it prevents people from realizing their potential and contributing to the progress of their societies. Hunger makes people more vulnerable to diseases. It leaves them weak and lethargic, reducing their ability to work and provide for their dependents. The same devastating cycle is repeated from generation to generation and will continue to be so until we take effective action to break it.

We must break this cycle and reduce hunger and poverty over the long-term. About 70 percent of the hungry and poor of the developing world live in rural areas. Many of them are subsistence farmers or landless people seeking to sell their labour, who depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their earnings.

We must improve agricultural productivity and standards of living in the countryside by helping small subsistence farmers and rural communities increase their incomes and improve the quantity and quality of locally available food. For that, we must give them greater access to land, credit and relevant technology and knowledge that would help them grow more resistant crops, as well as ensuring plant and animal safety.

But success will also depend on developments beyond the farm gate, such as improvements in rural health care services and education and in rural infrastructure, which includes roads, supply of irrigation water and food safety management. Such improvements would also do much to stimulate private sector investments in downstream activities, such as food processing and marketing.

We must secure a central place for women, who play a critical role in agriculture in developing countries. They are involved in every stage of food production, working far longer hours than men, and are the key to ensuring that their families have adequate supplies of food.

Nowhere are strategies for sustainable agriculture and rural development more important than in Africa, where nearly 200 million people – 28 percent of the population – are chronically hungry. Indeed today, for the first time in a decade, several countries in the southern African region face a risk of outright famine over the coming months.

We must, therefore, bring all our innovative thinking to bear on helping Africa fight hunger. The African-owned and led New Partnership for Development must be supported as a potentially important tool in that fight.

We must also fulfil the promise given at last November's meeting of the World Trade Organization in Doha and make sure that the new round of trade negotiations removes the barriers to food imports from developing countries. For instance, the tariffs imposed on processed food, like chocolate, make it impossible for processing industries in developing countries to compete.

We must also evaluate carefully the impact of the subsides that are now given to producers in the rich countries. By lowering food prices in the poorest countries, they may help alleviate hunger in some cases and in the short-term only. But, dumping surpluses can also have devastating long-term effects - ranging from disincentives for national production to unemployment - while making it impossible for the developing countries to compete on the world market.

However, even if markets in developed countries were opened further, these countries would still need help to take advantage of these opportunities, especially in the agriculture sector. The application of some international norms and standards cannot be met without technical assistance and further investment.

The fight against hunger also depends on the sustainable management of natural resources and the ecosystems, which contribute to food production. With world population expected to reach well over seven billion by 2015, pressure on the environment will continue to mount. The challenge of the coming years is to produce enough food to meet the needs of one billion more people, while preserving the natural resource base on which the well-being of the present and future generations depends.

But the hungry poor also need direct help today. Food aid can make a big difference, both in emergencies and in situations of chronic hunger. Direct nutritional support to pregnant and nursing women helps their babies grow into healthy adults. School feeding programmes not only feed hungry children but also help to increase school attendance - and studies show that educated people are best able to break out of the cycle of poverty and hunger.

My dear friends, if we want to reverse the current trends and reduce hunger by 50 percent by the year 2015, we need a comprehensive and a coherent approach that addresses the multiple dimensions of hunger by pursuing simultaneously wider access to food and agricultural and rural development. We need an anti-hunger programme that could become a common framework around which global and national capacities to fight hunger can be mobilized.

We know that fighting hunger makes economic and social sense. It is a key step towards achieving all the development goals that we agreed to at the Millennium Summit. It is fitting, therefore, that this Summit comes in the middle of a crucial cycle of conferences aimed at helping us improve the lives of people everywhere - from trade in Doha, via the financing for development in Monterrey, to sustainable development in Johannesburg.

Hunger is one of the worst violations of human dignity. In a world of plenty, ending hunger is within our grasp. Failure to reach this goal should fill every one of us with shame. The time for making promises is over. It is time to act. It is time to do what we have long promised to do - eliminate hunger from the face of the earth.

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