From the podium

From the podium

His Excellency Meles Zenawi (Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia)

Mr Chairman, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Genetlemen, reducing the number of undernourished people in the world by half no later than 2015 is one of the Millennium development goals that we have all set for ourselves. These are goals for the achievement of which every country is expected to contribute. Countries such as my own who have not yet achieved these goals are expected to develop effective strategies and programmes for doing so and implement them with the support of the international community.

We have in Ethiopia developed such effective strategies and programmes and are implementing them. We are convinced that the Millennium development goals are interlinked and that, therefore, the goal of reducing the number of an undernourished people by half cannot be achieved in isolation from the other goals. We are also convinced that poverty cannot be effectively combatted by developing economic growth strategies and adding anti-poverty elements to such strategies. We are convinced that only strategies and programmes that have fighting poverty at their centre can be effective in achieving the Millennium development goals.

Ethiopia's approach to the goal of reducing the number of undernourished people by half is based on considerations that I have just outlined. As undernourishment and poverty are primarily rural phenomena in my country, the economic development strategies and programmes we have designed have rural development in general, and agricultural growth in particular, as the basis of all our development activities.

Our programmes are designed to make full use of the fact that our rural population has universal access to land. We plan to provide universal primary education to our people, to link up primary education with vocational training in agriculture, and hence to use universal primary education in improving agricultural productivity. We intend to provide access to improved agricultural technologies, both through extensive vocational training in agriculture and effective agricultural extension service.

Mr Chairman, we are convinced that empowerment of the poor is central to the success of the fight against poverty. Empowerment of the poor by, among other things, devolving power to the grassroots level and building the capacity of the community to design and implement their development programmes, is a central element of our strategy.

Subsistence farming, we are convinced, cannot be the basis of fighting poverty. Transforming subsistence agriculture into small-scale commercialized farming is therefore a key element of our strategy. Improvements in rural infrastructure and marketing networks, including improved access to export markets, are critical to the success of our programme.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, we in Ethiopia have begun to implement the strategies and programmes that I have outlined, and the results so far have been very encouraging indeed. We believe that we have a winning strategy and programme in place. With some assistance from the international community, we have no doubt that we can achieve all the Millennium development goals, including that of reducing the number of undernourished people by half no later than 2015. I appeal to all those who have the means, to help us implement our strategies and programmes.

Mr Chairman, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to refer to another matter that has preoccupied the Ethiopian people. Because this meeting is taking place so close to the object of our peoples' preoccupation, I thought not mentioning this before this forum would be a grave omission indeed. Outside these FAO Headquarters, which happen to be the former Italian Ministry of Colonial Affairs, stands the Obelisk of Axum, an obelisk that has been declared a heritage of humanity by UNESCO. It stands here because it was looted by Mussolini's fascists in the 1930s.

In 1948, Italy agreed to restitute the Obelisk. Since then, two more such agreements have been signed, the latest one being that of 1997. Successive Italian Governments have over the past 55 years failed to honour these agreements and restitute the Obelisk. Ethiopia has for 55 years been given the run-around, as one excuse after another is created to frustrate the implementation of these agreements. In the meantime, the Obelisk is subjected to the heavy traffic and pollution of Rome, and provided no protection against the elements. As a result, it has begun to crumble in front of the eyes of FAO personnel, in front of the eyes of all of us gathered here, and in front of the eyes of the world. I am sure that you will all agree with me that this is nothing short of outrage.

I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to the Italian Government to live up to its commitment and restitute the Obelisk immediately. I appeal to the Italian Parliament and the people of Italy, to end the forced exile and destruction of the Obelisk and restitute it now. I appeal to all friends of Ethiopia and Italy to use your good offices to end this sorry saga now. Thank you.

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