From the podium

From the podium

Her Excellency Chandrika B. Kumaratunga (President of the Republic, the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka)

It gives me great pleasure to address the first plenary meeting of the World Food Summit:five years later. The members of my delegation and I are deeply appreciative of the excellent arrangements made by the Government of Italy and the FAO Secretariat to extend us a warm welcome. I congratulate Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the UN, and Mr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO, for their unswerving determination to hold this review meeting despite various obstacles.

This Summit is expected to focus on the constraints of implementing the objectives outlined in the World Food Summit Plan of Action, as well as the means of harnessing resources to achieve its goals. Our presence here as policy-makers is to demonstrate the necessary political will and to ensure that the required decisions are taken to guide FAO in the realization of this important task under the able guidance of Director-General, Mr. Diouf.

The UN Millennium Summit Declaration has reaffirmed the World Food Summit target of halving undernutrition by 2015 along with halving extreme poverty within the same time frame. This Declaration has reinforced an integrated and coordinated approach to tackle poverty and food insecurity. It calls upon FAO to play a leading role in this process.

We have overwhelmingly adopted this morning the Declaration of the Summit.

I fully support the main conclusions. A shift from "business as usual" is required when recognizing the need to adjust resource allocations and appraisal criteria to reflect the reality that reduction of undernourishment is essential to sustained economic growth. The core objective of the World Food Summits have been sustainable agricultural development which could ensure world food security. We have talked for many decades of the problems of hunger and starvation and taken many decisions as to the solutions to these problems. Yet, while one half of the world's population has so much food and nourishment that they end up with diseases relating to over-eating, the other half starves to the point of death or extreme undernourishment, which entails their incapacity to live a full life as humans.

At this World Food Summit, I strongly propose that we look the real problems in the face and have the courage and the honesty to implement the policies that we all know would be the only ones capable of offering a lasting solution to the problem.

The countries most affected by poverty and hunger are those whose economies are traditionally agricultural. Some of these countries produced sufficient food to nourish well their populations, and even produced an excess output for trading against other goods with other states. My country as well as other nations in south Asia possessed agricultural practices of a high level of technological advancement dating back to the pre-Christian era.

The path of advance was halted, only to be diverted towards selective commercial cultivation of alien crops during colonial rule. The result is that today we starve while the old colonial countries have excess food, which is 'dumped' in order to maintain high prices for their farmers. They also practise various systems of protection which block markets in developed countries for produce from poor countries, while keeping all markets open in the opposite direction through the mechanisms of the World Trade Organization and others.

One wonders whether the free market is supposed to work only one way. This concern is further strengthened by the knowledge that Structural Adjustment Policies proposed by international financial institutions gave little importance to food security.

I cannot agree more with the Director-General of the FAO that if the billions of dollars utilized for subsidizing farmers in developed countries are diverted to assist food production and income generation, in poor countries the emergence of the billions of starving people and billions more of the poor as consumers would open up markets for producers all over the world, including farmers of developed nations who would then require no more subsidies.

The major issues that inhibit agricultural development have been identified sometime ago. They are: land tenure and access to land and water; availability of high quality seed; mechanization and access to technology; as well as market access.

Food security cannot be achieved unless these issues are seriously addressed. The problem of water for agriculture poses the most difficult challenge. While availability of water globally is decreasing at alarming levels, we know that the projected population increase of three billion people in the next half century will occur in countries that experience water shortages presently. The World Food Summit Plan of Action has identified water shortage as a serious concern. We have to evolve a comprehensive and extensive plan for resolving the problem of water shortages and droughts.

Sri Lanka has implemented several programmes for food security. In the past several decades a policy of free food rations, and now a safety net of financial and other assistance to the poor, has been implemented. The construction of a large number of irrigation projects, as well as the maintenance of an extensive irrigation network have received priority in our development. This has resulted in good health and education indices in my country. We have a life expectancy of 73 years, low infant and maternal mortality rates that compare well with developed countries, and a high school attendance rate with a literacy rate of 92 percent. However, the lack of a comprehensive policy to promote the development for agriculture to meet the challenges of a globalized free market economy has resulted in locking a large number of small farmers into low productivity and low value activities. Excessive government intervention has inhibited diversification of small farm agriculture to high value activities, pushing many out of agriculture and into insecure low-wage labour. We have identified the necessary areas for future action in Sri Lanka. We believe that we could halt the decline in agricultural income through the implementation of an action plan comprising the above factors.

The governments of developing countries, Mr. Chairman, alone cannot accomplish the complicated and multi-faceted task of agricultural development. The private sector has a crucial role to play. I am happy to note that the private sector is becoming increasingly aware that it cannot prosper in a world where poverty and hunger would result in social unrest and perhaps crime and political violence.

Let us today dedicate ourselves to resolving effectively the modern world's most shameful and tragic problem: that of famine and hunger.

I congratulate His Excellency, Mr. Diouf for his determination in undertaking this important review at the highest political level. I also appeal to all countries to recognize the importance of the Director-General's Trust Fund initiative to raise funds as a catalyst for accelerating food production in developing countries.

While thanking you for your patient hearing may I conclude with a quotation from Lord Buddha, which is very relevant in today's world confronted with persistent drought, famine and food insecurity: "May rain come on time with the blessings of gods. Let there be bountiful crops. May the rulers look after their citizens well. May good governance prevail".

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