From the podium

From the podium

Her Excellency Megawati Soekarnoputri (President of the Republic of Indonesia)

It is a distinct honour and pleasure for me on behalf of the people and the Government of Indonesia to be able to address this World Food Summit: five years later

Our presence here is a clear testimony of the importance we all attach to the issue under consideration. Whatever format and approach we are using to reflect on the issue of food, there still exist many problems and even challenges we ought to deal with. Amidst the continued increase in the global food production, we nevertheless witness food shortages or even hunger in many parts of the world.

Hard work to expand farming lands, support towards research and development in agricultural technology, introduction of improved species, application of new techniques in the field of extension and other efforts aimed to increase food production, all do not seem to show the projected outcomes. All seem beset with or stumbled over classical problems of macro-economy. Difficult situations in some countries as a result of the financial crisis at the end of the last century has brought about new problems, particularly with more people living in poverty and the decrease in their buying power.

Admittedly for us, such a picture is hanging over our national life. Many other developing countries with large populations may encounter similar difficulties. The already limited resources cannot but be devoted to financing food safety net programs for poor households. It is universally well-known that in order to prevent widespread hunger and to lessen the number of people living in poverty, many countries have to make use of foreign assistance and incur debt. It seems ironic, but it does show the reality in which many live. They are increasingly entrapped with the problem of foreign debt, which in turn complicates them with more complex problem.

Many programs to promote the increase in food production, inter-alia, through the empowerment of farmers, the application of appropriate technologies aimed at improving efficiency, productivity and income, seem very difficult to implement and remain beyond reach. So does the intent to extensively benefit from potential local resource diversification through food production and consumption. It somehow remains the intent.

With all those difficulties, many countries suffer from an increase in the number of people living in poverty. We in Indonesia do have such a bitter experience. Our hard work for tens of years was almost wiped out. We were able to reduce the number of people living in poverty from 54.2 million in 1976, or 40.1 percent of the population, to 22.5 million, or 11.3 percent of the population in 1996. However, due to the severe economic crisis, the number of Indonesians living in poverty reached almost 50 million, or 24.3 percent of the population at the end of 1998.

Not only do the poverty and the decrease in purchasing power present enormous problems, but also pose obstacles to the implementation of agriculture and food programs. We are in a situation where it seems we have to work from the start. Now, we have come to the new understanding concerning the well-known words of "food security"

Against the problem of poverty and endeavours to alleviate it that have so far been assessed by physical measurements, there is a decrease in purchasing power. The new understanding should necessarily imply the need for food security and assurances for food accessibility. The absence of financial and physical access to sufficient food will only make food security part of the problem, not the solution.This is the underlying problem before us.

Therefore, we have set poverty alleviation and various related policies as our national priority. In fact, we have mobilized almost all of our resources to address the problem. Everything is geared towards the revival of our economic life and the restoration of the expansion of job opportunities. But experience shows that many of the obstacles we are increasingly encountering are not only the result of our limited national resources, but are also caused by the payment of our foreign debt obligations. We presume that many other developing countries have to deal with similar situations.

Again, we are able to speak against about own experience. We have no intention of raising the issue for consideration by this August gathering, as we are fully aware of the avaibility more appropriate fora for such a debate to take place. Nevertheless, without an effective solution to the debt problem and flexibility by financing governments of institutions for its rescheduling, I am afraid efforts to fight poverty and to accomplish food security will only be distanced from us.

In September of this year, we will meet again to agree on concrete steps to carry out sustainable development. The objective that we are trying to accomplish at the Johannesburg Summit actually corresponds to our deliberations here. After all, global endeavours to attain sustainable development – whose purpose among others is to alleviate poverty and whose scope is also to contain agriculture and food resilience to preserve natural resources and biodiversity, will ultimately be affected by the way the foreign debt questions is settled.

At home, the problem has indeed become a particular national homework for each of us. However, in this fast-changing world we increasingly feel that peoples and nations are interdependent, mutually-influencing, and in need of each other. The basic line for us to draw is that there is an urgent need for closer, more concrete and more genuine cooperation so that we can work together to overcome any common problem that may arise.

In line with this appeal for cooperation and in keeping with the spirit of the Rome Declaration we adopted five years ago, I would like to affirm Indonesia's support for any co-operation programme to fight poverty and hunger.

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