From the podium

From the podium

His Majesty King Mswati III (The Kingdom of Swaziland)

Mr Chairman, Your Majesty, the Secretary General of the UN, Heads of States and Governments, Director-General of FAO, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am delighted to join you all in beautiful Rome for this important Summit. I should like to start by commending the Secretariat of FAO and the Government and people of Italy for the warm welcome and detailed preparation for the Summit. Allow me also to express the Kingdom's deep appreciation for the commitment and leadership of our Director-General in the struggle for food security and for the support of the FAO to Swaziland's own programme.

In 1996 the world agreed on a Declaration and Plan of Action to meet the challenge of achieving food security for all. In a remarkable display of unity, of purpose, we made commitments to each other and set targets for action to reduce hunger wherever it occurs. Five years later the facts show that we are not meeting those targets. Our task this week is to understand why we are failing and to take the necessary steps to get us back on track. The Kingdom of Swaziland believes that time has shown that the decisions we made then and the conclusions we arrived at were correct. The problem lies in commitment to implementation. This Summit gives us the opportunity to re-commit ourselves to the spirit and letter of that Declaration with emphasis on appropriate government programmes and donor resource allocations that will make a real difference.

In 1996, Heads of State agreed that food security is above all the responsibility of individual countries. Any attempt to develop is undermined when sections of the population lack sufficient nutritious food and we, therefore, undertook to integrate the Plan of Action into our respective government strategies as a matter of the highest priority.

The record shows that the Kingdom of Swaziland has lived up to its commitments because poverty alleviation and food security are at the centre of our development efforts. We recognize that there are many areas still to be addressed, but we believe that we have made the right start. Blessed with peace and stability, we have concentrated on assisting our farmers to increase productivity and to diversify their crop and livestock production, and on providing the nation with essential water resources through large-scale irrigation projects. Taking the hut, the principle that food security and poverty are both part of the same problem, we have been straining our resources to reduce the 60 percent of our population who live below the poverty line.

Our focus is on investment attraction, by encouraging agri-business and providing capital for rural businesses. We are delighted that both our men and women are playing equal roles in this drive for progress. Moreover, the cooperative movement has made great strides in recent years, and we have finalized our policies regarding sectors such as forestry and resettlement. Understanding the importance of good governance in the fight against undernourishment and poverty, we are now concluding a review of our Constitution through national consultation to ensure that the Kingdom continues to be governed according to the wishes of the people themselves and for the benefit of the whole nation. Despite all this progress and the huge resources allocated, as much as 15 percent of our people still require urgent food aid now, with the prospect of many more joining them next year. One of the reasons for this is the drought that is affecting the region and that is forcing many of our people into food queues.

In the future, we are looking at a combination of measures to affect these situations, including the introduction of drought-resistant crops and the provision of reliable water resources, especially dams, throughout the Kingdom.

Just as important, is our emphasis on livestock production which is so vital to the rural economy and remains the main source of livelihood and sustenance for many of our people, especially during times of drought. Our focus here is on disease control, hence on education of our farmers and well-directed field research. But while nature is a major filter, it is also true that lack of financial resources is equally responsible for our slow progress. All these measures are urgent priorities, but we simply do not have the funds to address them fast enough. We appeal to the donor community and development financial institutions to support us, especially as regards the funding of dams and other large-scale projects, and to help us to secure market access for our products.

But the greatest challenge to our development and food security is without question the HIV/AIDS epidemie. Large numbers of the population are infected with the virus that causes AIDS, and this disaster is already having a dramatic impact on food production. The Kingdom is faced with the prospect of losing a substantial part of our rural work force and a redirection of scarce resources, all adding to the danger of decreasing food security for present and future generations.

We are trying our best to cope but again, we desperately need the support of the rest of the world in our struggle. The principle underlining the 1996 Declaration was of a global partnership against hunger. While there has, indeed, been some progress towards meeting specific targets, the review shows that the action and resources allocated to this priority by the developed world are falling way below the levels promised five years ago in most areas. Evidence of lack of commitment to the cause includes the widening gap in wealth, increased application of trade protection measures, unequal market access, failure to meet the agreed 0.7 percent of GDP for overseas development assistance and decreasing rates of foreign direct investment.

The Kingdom of Swaziland also believes that the new strategy of development assistance, on a regional basis, contributes to the problem since many of our food security priorities fall outside the framework of regional programmes and require more immediate attention.

Finally, we strongly encourage discussion on the continuation of preferential access to markets beyond the timetable under existing arrangements for essential products from the developing world. So what should be the way ahead? The short answer is to re-commit ourselves to our Declaration of five years ago, and to show by actions that this time we really mean what we say.

The Kingdom of Swaziland, without hesitation, binds itself to do so. This is a necessary commitment for us to make as we are on the frontline in the war against poverty and hunger. Our people expect nothing less than total dedication to the cause. I call on all other nations to join us and make a similar commitment to discharge fully our responsibilities and to learn from the unity we have experienced in the phase of terror to create an effective partnership against hunger.

Thank you, God bless us all.

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