From the podium

From the podium

His Excellency Kessai H. Note (President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands)

The right to eat and be free from hunger is as fundamental as the right to breathe. As policy-makers, it is our obligation to ensure that this right is not only spoken of but that it is accorded the highest attention by our Governments. It must be made clear at this meeting that this solemn obligation to alleviate poverty and hunger in the world is not a sectorial one. In other words, it is not assignable only to those countries most affected by poverty and hunger or to any one government, society or a village but rather to the world as a global village, as one nation. For inasmuch as we like to globalize the rural economy, we should equally equip ourselves with the same fervour in fighting against world poverty and hunger.

At the 1996 World Food Summit, we set ourselves the goal of cutting in half the number of hungry people in the world by the year 2015. FAO's statistics say that the 1996 World Food Summit indicated that this goal cannot be met. To reach this target, it is estimated that the number of hungry people in the world must be decreased by 20 million each year, far above the current rate of 8 million. This is a monumental task, and therefore I am urging all of us to work together in seeking practical ways to translate our commitments into real actions. This means that we, as governments, must rededicate and refocus our priorities and must take the lead if we want to effect possible and positive changes. It follows, therefore, that good governance and transparency must be exercised by all of us in order for us to make a real effort at changing the status quo. Mahatma Gandhi once said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world".

As reported to you last month at the Twenty-sixth Session of the FAO Asia and Pacific Regional Conference in Kathmandu, my country is increasingly dependent on imported foods. This situation has been brought about by the rapid growth in our population, and its abandonment of traditional subsistence activities in many of our Islands. The situation has made food security in the Marshall Islands very vulnerable. To offset this trend, my Government has initiated several holistically- run programmes through increased local government and cabinet partnerships that include import assistance measures and support new regional improvements. As a result, several food security, and income-generating projects on the Islands have been established. At the same time, we are putting together the mechanism for the establishment of revolving funds for farmers and small businesses in order to sustain the pace of these programmes. We have also begun a programme to teach our students at two of our high schools the basic fundamentals of farming and home gardening and we have included certain native and non-native fruits and plants to supplement local food production and to bring about a more balanced diet for the population. It is encouraging to note that more women and youths in the rural areas are participating in these small-scale agricultural projects, including FAO Tele Food Programmes.

Canneries, reef and lagoon fisheries are essentially the basis of our domestic food security and the reason for the survival of our rural outer island communities. While promoting commercial exploration of our reef and lagoon fisheries as a means for income generation in the outer islands, my Government is very much aware of the need to protect our eco-systems. To this end, I have directed various government agencies to collaborate with each other and with our set funding sources to assess the health of our coral reefs on a number of outer islands. We are hopeful that this project will receive adequate funding so that it will be expanded to all the islands of the Marshall Islands. We have started a fish stock assessment on two species of coral reefs and two of our most populated headlands, and again we are hopeful that this kind of project, with adequate funding, will be duplicated in all our islands and will involve a complete survey of all species of reefs in the Marshall Islands.

Despite these programmes and activities my Government still faces a number of challenges. Mr Chairman, for many years my Government has been concerned with the issue of global climate change. A major study on the detection and possible impacts of climate change and rising sea levels in the Marshall Islands was commissioned in the early 1990s. It was completed in 1992 by a team from Durham IPA led by Howard Sandys working on contract with the Government. The physical characteristics of the Marshall Islands would lead any visitor to understand why the RMI Government is so concerned with rising sea levels. The average size of our islands is about seven feet, or two metres above sea level. If nothing is done now about climate change, then I am afraid the Marshallist people will become among the first of many environmental refugees. Everything we do here as to poverty alleviation and food security would come to nought in the near future, at least for my people and my country.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands Government to reaffirms its commitment to the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action in order to eliminate poverty nationally and globally. We will continue to fight many of the food insecurity challenges that we face, and would like to contribute as much as we can to the global fight against hunger. I am very proud to say also that my Government supports the idea of a global alliance against hunger and will assist in whatever way possible.

In closing, once again I wish to thank FAO for the kind invitation to attend this World Food Summit: five years later and the Government and the people of Italy for extending this warm hospitality to me and my delegation.

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