From the podium

From the podium

The Honourable Ann M. Veneman (Secretary of Agriculture of the United States of America)

It is an honour to be here representing President Bush and the United States of America at the World Food Summit: five years later. President Bush views the alleviation of hunger and poverty throughout the world as a moral imperative. Those are his words. So today, as I did last November at the FAO Conference, I reaffirm the deep and continuing US commitment to the goals of the 1996 World Food Summit.

In the United States, we are well on our way to achieving the goal of reducing hunger at home by one-half by the year 2010 because of a coordinated effort involving various levels of government, local communities, charities and business. Globally, widespread hunger and malnutrition exact an enormous cost in terms of human suffering and lost potential, particularly in much of sub-Saharan Africa, parts of south Asia and in other regions. It is clear that all members of the global community, working individually and in partnership, must significantly accelerate and more effectively focus our efforts. The challenges we face include chronic hunger, recurring famines and serious nutritional deficiencies. To ensure that the objectives of the 1996 World Food Summit will be met, the United States is proposing to focus on three priorities: first, reducing hunger by increasing agricultural productivity; secondly, ending famine; and third, improving nutrition.

Increasing agricultural productivity is a way to boost both food availability and access in developing countries. Worldwide, some 800 million people are food-insecure and most of these people live in rural areas where food is produced. In many of these countries, agriculture accounts for a large share of employment and export earnings. Increasing agricultural productivity is one of the most immediate steps we can take to reduce hunger and must be part of a growth strategy to reach the rural poor. Accomplishing this will require, above all, that countries adopt market-based policies that help stimulate rather than hold back their farming sectors. The starting point must be good governance and the rule of law, a commitment to broadbased economic growth and policies that are conducive to private initiative, investment and trade. We have seen encouraging examples of market reform in nations such as Uganda, Ghana, Peru and Vietnam. Famine is a human tragedy often caused by human actions. It is a severe drain on development resources and should be fully preventable. Better use of early warning systems, more local capacity for famine prevention and relief and other actions would help control the sources of famine, shifting the aid focus from crisis to response development. In many cases, democratic systems and conflict prevention are two of the most effective means to reduce the risk of famine.

To improve nutrition, the world should target its efforts to eliminating Vitamin A and iodine deficiency disorders by 2015, reducing iron and folate deficiencies in women and children by a third during the same period, and reducing stunting in young children and low birth rates. The United States will focus on these three priorities as we continue and build upon our long tradition of investing significantly in domestic and international food security programmes.

When President Bush proposed a new Compact for Development in March, he said that part of this historic 50 per cent increase in our development efforts would be used to "raise harvests where hunger is greatest". To ensure tangible progress in reducing poverty and alleviating hunger, we will use these funds in partnership with countries that are, as the President said, ruling justly, investing in their people and promoting economic freedoms. The resources that drive development come from private, domestic and foreign sources and, although development assistance can complement and foster these private flows, it cannot replace them. It is the combination of policies, private resources and development assistance that allows nations to grow and prosper and to achieve food security for their people.

At the same time, we are increasing the emphasis on agriculture in our traditional development assistance programmes with funding for agriculture programmes growing more than 20 per cent in each of the last two years. We are the largest contributor to the multilateral lending banks, and encourage them to focus on agricultural growth in areas where hunger is greatest. We are the leading food aid donor, as well as the leading donor responding to the complex food security crisis facing southern Africa. To reduce the suffering of the people in this region who have been devastated by severe drought conditions, the United States is today releasing 275,000 metric tonnes of wheat to be exchanged for an equal value of US corn, beans and vegetable oil through the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust.

In addition, our pilot global School-Feeding Programme is now providing school meals to some nine million children in 38 countries across Africa, Asia, Central and South America and Eastern Europe. Based on this pilot initiative, the US Congress recently authorized an additional US$100 million for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Programme. We understand very clearly that, when children are fed at school, they are more likely to come to school, which means they are better prepared to learn while they are at school. This is a worthy investment and we encourage other countries to join us in helping many more children through this programme.

The United States also continues to support research to develop and disseminate technologies that increase production, farm income and market opportunities.

Today I am inviting Ministers from around the world to join me next year for a Science and Technology Conference to focus on the needs of developing countries in adopting new food and agriculture technologies. We will look at the role of partnerships and ways to share the benefits of technology. Increased farm yield foods with higher nutrient content, inexpensive vaccines, improved distribution and new value added opportunities are just a few of the ways science and technology can improve the quality of life in developing countries.

To grow and prosper, developing countries must have markets for their products. Trade can and must play a critical role in addressing the world's food security needs. An open food trading system should be our goal, and the starting point is the WTO Agricultural Negotiations now underway as part of the Doha development agenda.

We are gathered here in Rome because we share a common commitment to wiping out hunger, improving nutrition and building a more peaceful, prosperous and secure world. Although challenging, these goals are unquestionably attainable and ones to which the United States is deeply committed. Success will be counted in lives saved and lives made better.

We look forward to working with you our partners to achieve these objectives.

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