From the podium

From the podium

His Excellency Mahmoud Hojjati (Minister of Agriculture of the Islamic Republic of Iran) (Original language Farsi)

In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, five years ago as we approached the third millennium, the Heads of States or their representatives attended a historic meeting in these premises. It was a meeting which could, and still has, the potential to be registered as a historic event in understanding one of the most vital problems of mankind and mankind’s struggle to overcome that problem.

Our Governments reached a consensus and endorsed the humanitarian and professionally prepared recommendations arising from the deliberations and discussions of that meeting. Using simple language, we committed ourselves and I repeat, we committed ourselves to reduce by half the number of hungry and malnourished by 2015. We all remember that all participants – representing virtually the entire world – felt that achieving this target was still not an adequate solution to the problem, but we arrived at a consensus since this target was deemed to be feasible.

Our gathering today, at the beginning of the third millennium, signifies that we are all still committed to what we undertook five years ago. We have come together to take stock of how we are nearing our target and to assess achievements and challenges. We have to ask: Have we made progress towards the target? Is our path without problems? Does the continuation of the present trend help us realize the commitment we have made to humanity? With much regret I must say that the answers to all these questions are negative.

According to a simple calculation by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in order to halve the number of hungry in the target year – that is, to 400 million people – we should reduce the number of hungry people by, on average, 20 million each year. In the last five years this figure amounted to only 6 million. If this trend continues we cannot reach the target in less than 60 years. It would take centuries, therefore, to eliminate hunger entirely. Not only do we not have such a long time at our disposal but it is even beyond the timeframe of the next generation. History will not wait for us.

It is true that scientific progress and improved technology prevent Malthus’ theory from coming true. Nevertheless, history has shown that the time dimension is a decisive factor. In the not-so-distant past we have witnessed that advanced technology, as interpreted and applied in a shortsighted manner, can lead to disaster. It is the duty of each and every one of us to prevent shortsighted justification of scientific progress. In this specific context, sound judgement dictates that we should employ our science, know-how and wealth in the reduction of poverty, hunger and inequality. If we do not do so the “haves” who own these means will have to use knowledge and wealth to suppress the “have nots”. At the same time, despite having all material means at their disposal, will have to live in constant fear and uncertainty. In such circumstances, the oppressed will have to consume their productive potential in the vicious circle of poverty, low productivity and more poverty. This outcome is an added burden on every civilized being which could easily be avoided.

Now, what is the problem? Do we have the resources to better feed 20 million people each year in a world of six billion people? The answer is absolutely positive: yes, we do. Available statistics in the Food and Agriculture Organization show that despite using valuable resources, in particular water for irrigation, about 20 to 30 percent of produce in less developed countries is wasted, is lost after harvest because of lack of access to modern technology. Technical assistance from developed countries, therefore, could well reduce part of this loss and put it at the disposal of consumers, thereby reducing the number of hungry people.

In accordance with statistics available at FAO, if the available food in the world were more equitably distributed the problem of hunger and malnutrition would no longer be with us. Many farmers in the world receive subsidies not to produce, as their governments do not want to disturb the food trade equilibrium. In short, at issue is not a shortage of resources.

Is there sufficient political will to attain such humanitarian objectives? Available evidence shows a positive answer to this question. What stronger evidence than that five years ago the Heads of States and their representatives voluntarily committed themselves and have now gathered together to find solutions to the problem. This is a clear sign that strong political commitment does exist. It seems that this commitment very clearly exists in the north and has even grown stronger.

On World Food Day, last year, we witnessed the President of Germany and the Minister of Agriculture of Italy suggest creation of a World Alliance against Poverty and Hunger. During his visit to Africa, the continent hardest hit by hunger, the British Prime Minister proposed participatory development. He further warned, on 9 February 2002, that the prevailing situation is a breeding-ground for terrorism. Among other European leaders similar examples abound.

No doubt the national resolve of the governments should be based on viewing food as a strategic thrust by according priority to agricultural production and by allocating sufficient budgetary resources for sustainable agricultural development to produce sufficient, nutritious food.

Chairperson, Excellencies, Director-General, Ladies and Gentlemen. In accordance with the medium and long term development plans of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the agricultural sector has been accorded special priority and has been identified as the main access of economic development. The country's top decision-makers have put their full trust in this.

Therefore, I am happy to bring to your attention the fact that despite financial and credit problems, the budgetary allocation to agriculture for the year 2001-2002 has enjoyed a 100 percent increase. With a diverse climate and rich biodiversity of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the existence of specialized and experienced manpower, I trust we will not only produce enough for our country's food security but also play a significant part in food security for our region and the world.

In this connection I would like to thank the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for its technical assistance to my country within the framework of TCP and TCDC.

In the countries of the south, there both commitment and eagerness to combat poverty and hunger, addressing the poverty and hunger issue is a key factor to trigger development. Now days, both in the north and the south, thinkers and development experts are of the opinion that development means human development. That means freedom from helplessness. What helplessness is worse than being hungey? Hunger means deprived of the most essential human right. A hungry mother gives birth to a weak and vulnerable child. A hungry child cannot realize his or her full physical and intellectual potential. A malnourished teacher cannot impart knowledge to a hungry student. When the student becomes a worker, manager or a decision-maker, he can not help in developing the country and so this viscous circle goes on.

On this basis, the delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran is of the opinion that the problem in reaching the stated goals of 1996 lies in not having in place a proper mechanism for the proper use of political will and existing global resources in solving local problems.

Chairperson, Distinguished Government Representatives, let us cherish this historic moment as we never know if in the next round of our gathering we shall enjoy the existing circumstances or even enjoy the gift of being alive. We should reaffirm our previous commitment by allocating sufficient resources and by adopting sound policies towards combating world hunger.

Based on the studies by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, more than 75 percent of the world's poor live in rural areas. One of the major solutions to the hunger problem is to allocate sufficient resources for sustainable rural and agricultural development, in particular through established Trust Fund by FAO for Food Security and Food Safety.

Let us polish our political commitment and humanitarian considerations of what was written on the door of Sufis Monastery: "feed whoever comes to this house without asking his faith as whoever is created by the Almighty is worthy to receive bread from my house".

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