From the podium

From the podium

His Excellency Ahmad T. Kabbah (President of the Republic of Sierra Leone)

Sierra Leone has just emerged from a period of devastating turmoil and suffering. Our recent general elections, which were pronounced as free and fair by all domestic and international observers, have ushered in a period of renaissance and renewal.

The aspiration of our people is for a long period of peace and stability that would allow rapid and sustainable economic and social development. For us, the role of agriculture and rural development is central to our prospects for meaningful economic development and poverty alleviation.

Mr Chairman, we are extremely pleased that the long-standing efforts of FAO in helping the world community foster agricultural developments have been carried on vigorously by our current Director-General. This culminated in the World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996, which adopted the laudable targets to which my Government fully subscribed, namely to reduce the number of hungry people by half by 2015. Other laudable initiatives include the Special Programme for Food Security, which has kept the candle of food production burning when it was not so popular among many donors.

Unfortunately, because of the devastating civil war, my country is one that has contributed to the global failure to make adequate progress towards achieving the WFS targets. Instead of a reduction in the number of hungry people, we have in fact seen a sizeable increase since 1996!

Mr Chairman, in my statement on the occasion of my being sworn in as President – on my second term - on Sunday 19 May 2002, following successful Presidential and Parliamentary elections in my country, I committed myself to do everything within my powers to ensure that within the next five years, no Sierra Leonean should go to bed hungry. We are adopting what can be called a "rights to food policy" which recognizes the critical role agriculture and rural development have to play in poverty alleviation in the Sierra Leone. I appeal to the international community to join hands with us in developing and implementing programmes that would help us achieve our target of raising average daily calorie intake from the present unacceptable level of 1 800 calories to at least 2 200 calories, and preferably 2 400 calories by the year 2007.

To achieve our objectives we expect to concentrate on increasing our domestic food production not only to supply our domestic market needs, but also to export many of the commodities, including our staple food rice, to other countries that may not enjoy a comparative advantage in producing both for domestic and regional markets. This is due to our abundant natural resources and a people willing to work hard to improve their living standards and generate a higher national income. In the short run, as we focus on the rehabilitation of our production capacity, we will also need to develop targeted programmes to ensure that hungry people, who have limited capacity to access adequate supplies of food, receive assistance in the form of food-for-work or food donations for the most vulnerable such as our war victims.

We look forward to developing programmes with our partners, that will ensure that we can take advantage of the opportunities provided by the new World Trade Organization regulations. We also need to take advantage of new technologies being developed by International and National Agricultural Research Organizations, such as the New Rice for Africa (Nerica) varieties that are being promoted by our own regional organization, the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA). Our partners will include the many NGOs that have helped us provide emergency assistance to our farmers during our crisis, and whom we now expect to move to substantive development work.

In this context we will renew our appeal to developed countries to continue to improve on the removal of their agricultural export subsidies, and to accelerate the pace of the debt relief programmes for highly indebted countries from which we have started benefiting.

On our part, my Government pledges to continue to create the enabling environment of peace and stability, transparency and good governance, in which areas you will all agree we have made substantial progress.

Mr Chairman over the next five years we will significantly increase the proportion and quantum of our national budget devoted to food security issues, so that we are well placed to provide the domestic funds needed to complement the investment we anticipate from international sources. In this regard my Government fully supports the new partnership for Africa's development (NEPAD) initiative. The international community, particularly the private sector should be convinced that we in Africa no longer intend to do business-as-usual, and therefore should join us in marching forward toward improving the conditions of living which the NEPAD initiative aims at bringing to the peoples of Africa.

In closing, Mr Chairman, Distinguished Delegates, I would like to commend the Director General and staff of FAO for organizing this World Food Summit: five years later a conference, which is providing all of us with the opportunity to take stock of the progress we have made in achieving the laudable goals we set for ourselves five years ago and to map out a way forward. I would like to indicate my Government's desire to participate in the proposed International Alliance against Hunger, which we regard as a central pillar of the new way forward.

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