From the podium

From the podium

His Majesty King Letsie III (The Kingdom of Lesotho)

In 1996 world leaders gathered at the World Food Summit and affirmed their "common and national commitment to achieving food security for all" and agreed to work towards "reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015". However, as we gather here again for the World Food Summit: five years later, we are warned by the Director-General of FAO that "nowhere has the gap between intent and determined action been more visible than in the failure of most of our Member Nations – developed and developing – to fulfil their solemn commitment made at the World Food Summit in 1996, to take the measures required to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015. All the evidence indicates that there are almost as many hungry people in the world now as there were five years ago and that the resources set aside to address hunger have been falling rather than rising".

This disturbing situation imposes a grave responsibility on all of us gathered here to act with greater decisiveness and urgency in fulfilling our obligation towards the World Food Summit Plan of Action and the Rome Declaration on World Food Security.

We need, therefore, to design and implement appropriate and effective programmes that will reduce poverty and hunger. We know that this exercise will not be easy, but it has to be done for the sake of millions of the hungry and malnourished people living in our countries.

Mr Chairman, the problems of escalating poverty, hunger and malnutrition, as well as the scourge of HIV/AIDS, demand that all sectors join hands and work together in order to reverse this devastating situation. In this regard, Lesotho held a national dialogue on sustainable development to map out strategies for reducing poverty, food insecurity, as well as building a consensus on priority areas for our country's socio-economic development. We also recognize that attempts to revamp agricultural development will not succeed unless we tackle HIV/AIDS and the severity of its impact.

Mr Chairman, Lesotho, as a least developed food deficit country, is exposed to even more complicated challenges. In the past few years, the situation in Lesotho has worsened, partly because of factors such as rising unemployment due to continuing retrenchment of migrant mine workers in South Africa, inclement and extreme weather conditions, which include prolonged periods of drought, excessive rain, unpredictable frosts, the continuing depletion of soils and, to some extent, social unrest.

These problems, coupled with the increasing spread of the deadly HIV/AIDS have, in turn, led to lower agricultural yields, loss of household income, widespread hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

Despite these daunting challenges, we are working hard to minimize their impact by creating the conditions necessary for sustainable development through our targeted intervention in development activities. Over and above requesting the rural communities to clarify and elaborate their development priorities, we have also decentralized agricultural services with a view to improving service delivery.

The markets for grains, which are essentially the staple food for our people, have been deregulated and we are presently in the process of privatizing agricultural enterprises.

Mr Chairman, as part of our efforts to create a favourable environment for development, Lesotho has demonstrated her firm commitment to democracy and good governance through last month's general elections. We hope that the new electoral model, which we have adopted and used for the first time, will bring about long-lasting political stability that will enable us to increase our food production and restore food security.

Our focus now is on finalizing a revised poverty reduction strategy as well as vigorously implementing the reforms in the social, agricultural and financial sectors. Since over 80 percent of Basotho reside in rural areas and more than half of these are categorized as living in poverty, we strongly believe that agricultural development is key to improving their situation. Consequently, our policies and activities are largely geared towards establishing more effective and sustainable farming practices.

Mr Chairman, concerted efforts are underway to combat poverty, implement Agenda 21, create employment and income opportunities, improve social services, especially in education and health, and promote environmental conservation. In dealing with these issues, we are aware of the importance of forging partnerships and creating linkages at both national and regional levels, in order to enhance food security. To this effect, civil society and private sector institutions are being encouraged to play a bigger role in the development of agriculture, especially in the context of our newly- established market-oriented policies. At regional level, we are collaborating with our partners to ensure food security under SADC food security sector.

While we expect that the reforms we are undertaking will help us to deal with these problems, we are at the same time continuing to identify and mobilize resources that are required to support our programmes in the short, medium and long term.

Mr Chairman, the southern African Sub-region is currently faced with serious famine conditions which, if not urgently addressed, will develop into a crisis situation. Cognizant of the gravity of the situation, my Government declared Lesotho to be in a state of famine in April this year. An amount of M23 million was set aside from our own meagre budgetary resources for an immediate intervention through provision of food assistance, supplementary feeding to the under-fives and subsidies for the market price of maize meal for the most vulnerable households, particularly those in the remote rural areas of our country, for a period of one year starting from 1 May 2002.

The food shortage not only affects Lesotho but is also a widespread problem affecting several other countries in the region. As a result, we would like to appeal to the international community to urgently assist southern Africa out of this looming food crisis.

Mr Chairman, I feel it would be remiss of us if we failed to bring to the attention of this important meeting the fact that the African continent has elaborated and adopted the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) as a comprehensive programme for international cooperation towards taking the continent out of, among other things, the cycle of poverty and hunger. The support of the international community for NEPAD will significantly contribute to improved food security, reduction of hunger and malnutrition in the continent.

Mr Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, I would like to conclude my remarks by requesting all of us to join hands, together with our people, to strengthen our commitment to the objectives of the World Food Summit Plan of Action and the Rome Declaration on World Food Security. In this renewed and strengthened commitment, we must summon the necessary political will to direct sufficient resources to hunger reduction and poverty alleviation for the sake of our starving and impoverished masses.

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