From the podium

From the podium


His Excellency Teburoro Tito (President of the Republic of Kiribati)

It is a great pleasure for me to address this august gathering of the FAO World Food Summit: five years later. I do so on behalf of Kiribati in the central Pacific with its 84 000 people and its 33 very small and very low-lying infertile islands, totalling in terms of land area about 800 square kilometres, which are scattered widely over a huge mass of sea of about 3.5 million square kilometres in area, straddling both the equator and the International date lines.

On their behalf, and that of my delegation I bring warm greetings to you all and best wishes for the success of the Summit.

At the outset, Mr Chairman, let me re-echo words of congratulations to you and to the six Vice-chairpersons who have been elected to guide our deliberations to a meaningful and satisfactory outcome and to assure you of our outmost cooperation and support.

I would also like to join previous speakers in thanking the Government and people of Italy for their warm hospitality and their continuing commitment and support for the vital functions and activities of FAO that benefit member countries.

I would also join my distinguished colleagues in commending the Director-General of FAO and his hard working staff, including those manning the Subregional Office in the Pacific, based in Samoa, for the excellent preparations and arrangements for the meeting and for the kind financial support that has enabled our full participation at this Summit.

Mr Chairman, the main purpose of this Summit is to talk about the hungry people of the world and to review the progress that the world community has made in addressing the plight of 800 million hungry and poor in the context of the 1996 Rome Food Summit Declaration, which was further endorsed by the UN Millennium Summit of September 2000 with a view to half the number of these unfortunate people by 2015, at the agreed target rate of 22 million per year.

We have now been informed, Mr Chairman, that happily there is a decline in the number of the hungry and poor by about 30 million people but, sadly, it is far too slow and the target date of 2015 may have to be moved to 2060 for the whole world, if we are going at the rates we have been moving in the past five years.

An alarm bell is ringing, rushing us to act swift and fast to the extent that we may not have adequate time to carefully examine the details of the course being charted, to get the hunger and poverty agenda back on track.

In this connection, Mr Chairman, I do share the point made by the President of Uganda yesterday, during the adoption of the World Food Summit: five years later Declaration and the need for those of us who are living with the hungry and poor to examine in greater depth the strategies being put forward by those who are free from such problems, as there are two completely different perspectives that have to be harmonized before a mutually acceptable strategy can be developed. Not only should both the giver and receiver of hunger and poverty related assistance, but also to ensure that the targets set are realistic and achievable within the given timeframe.

Mr Chairman, although Kiribati only recently joined FAO in 1999, we nonetheless fully support the 1996 Rome Declaration of World Food Security, not only because it is consistent with FAO's Constitution and the UN Millennium Declaration, but also because it strikes the heart of our national policy of improving the quality of life which, in the context of the food security issue, means the empowerment of our people, especially in the rural sector, to be able to have the basic needs met, including among others access to enough and nutritious food to eat and clean water to drink. I will elaborate on this later Mr Chairman.

Mr Chairman, it is indeed paradoxical and tragic that during this modern age of rapid globalization, trade liberalization and with great advances in scientific revelations that could bring about increased agricultural food production for the world population, by leaps and bounds, and with immense progress in technology and methods of distributing foods to all corners of the earth, hunger and food security should persist to haunt our conscience to this very day.

The slow progress that we are making in decreasing the number of starving people around the world, Mr Chairman, sadly points to the lack of real commitment on our part as Leaders, to the commitment made here in Rome in 1996 and on the part of the members of the international community, particularly those who have the resources and the means to get the hungry and the undernourished out of such deprivation.

It is imperative that we, as leaders, must renew our commitments at this Summit to redirect greater national efforts and resources towards addressing the root causes of these problems and to demonstrate through concrete action, the seriousness of the commitments that we have made here in Rome six years ago. As you would agree, the battle cannot be accomplished alone! It demands consolidated partnership and collective efforts between national governments and members of the civil society; NGOs; the private sector; development agencies; and the international community on the whole.

Mr Chairman, allow me at this juncture to share with members of this important gathering, the experience of my Government in tackling food and social problems for its people and its aspirations towards promoting a better sustainable lifestyle for the people in years to come.

The primary concern of Government, as I said earlier, is to improve the well-being of its people. Our national plans and development strategies are formulated and geared towards this end, in all respects of development and food security, is a major consideration in such strategies.

To this end, we have among other things in the past seven years, invested US$1.46 million of Government money in the Village Banks Programme, which cover more than 180 villages. We have invested up to US$12 million of local funds and EU stabex funds in the reactivation of the copra/coconut industry and another US$3 million for the construction of a copra milling plant and a soap making factory to add value to this most important agricultural product.

We have joined the Asia and Pacific Coconut Community to help promote copra and coconut products to international markets. We have also invested about US$6 million in the development bank, a large part of which is to promote private commercial fishing. We have also invested a much lesser sum in the national fishing company and the national handicraft and dried food companies which are tasked to develop domestic and exports markets for all local products, in order to improve the income of our rural people, which make up about two-thirds of our population.

We are also embarking on harvesting our vast tuna resources and setting up a subregional air service to compliment existing services in order to develop tourism and fresh tuna export in our subregion.

These demonstrate our political will and determination to try and free our people from the scourge of hunger and poverty, a duty that every democratic government has to perform in order to remain a government of the people, by the people and for the people. In this connection we are always grateful for the support, assistance and encouragement that we receive from FAO, the EU and many other development partners and friends, including all of you who have shared your personal vision, experience and wisdom which we can take back and apply or adapt those that are appropriate to our situation.

As many speakers have pointed out, hunger and poverty have universal dimensions that cut across national boundaries and that cannot be dealt with conclusively by any single country. This is where our collective understanding of these universal dimensions of hunger and poverty is crucial and the collective will and efforts to overcome them imperative.

Time does not permit me to elaborate on our perspective of the international dimensions of hunger and poverty but I would reiterate the points that I made a the recent UN Summit on Children on the need for the international community to make the world more human and less money oriented, and to make world governance systems and rules more democratic, transparent and more accountable to the people of the world, the majority of whom are in the hungry and poor developing nations of the world.

I believe the creation of a more humane world and a world in harmony with nature provides answers to the many man made problems caused by excessive wants and unlimited greed for power and wealth, including the uneven distribution of food, which has resulted in the many hungry and poor people of the world. If only the entire human family can rediscover the lost virtues of caring for and sharing with others, as still preserved in some of the more traditional societies, then there would be no hungry and poor people today and the Rome Declaration would not have been needed in the first place.

Fortunately chronic hunger and poverty does not exist in Kiribati. It is more to do with their increasing dependence on the liking for foreign food and materials. When they fail to get these foreign goods or when they fail to raise enough money from their fish or copra produce then they regard themselves as hungry and poor. In fact, our people generally have enough food to eat every day and they are assured by the rich sea and the generous and caring society around them that they can surely find food in the sea or with their relatives and friends, if they really need it.

The issue for Kiribati is really not one of shortage of food for basic survival but shortage of money needed to purchase goods and services that are not available in the subsistence economy. The challenge for us, therefore, is to create as much opportunity as possible to turn their subsistence production and skills into cash and to equip them with the new skills that could stretch their subsistence production further or add value to their products. This entails heavy financial responsibility for government as there is no private sector crazy enough to invest its capital in these kinds of cottage based industries for a small market of less than 100 000 people scattered over a huge area of ocean.

Prospects for development in the agricultural sector are constrained by the harsh natural environment of the country, which includes infertile soils, poor rainfall and customary land tenure. Under such circumstances, Mr Chairman, our people can only grow a limited number of agricultural crops for their daily subsistence. In most cases, prolonged periods of drought, which is quite common in most of our islands, could spell disaster for the crops before harvest, and disaster for the families that will feed on these. Hence, our people's heavy dependence on imported food items like rice and flour to meet basic food needs.

Furthermore, the presence of certain pests such as fruit flies, taro beetles and rats pose further threats to the already limited capacity of the soil to support certain food crops and this poses food security risks.

Nevertheless, we will continue to work closely with FAO and other regional agencies in pursuing agricultural development strategies, which are conducive to our atoll environment, such as organic farming and integrated pest management.

In this regard, I would like to express my Government's appreciation and gratitude for the assistance that we have received so far from FAO through its TCP and Telefood programmes.

I wish to assure you, Mr Chairman, that Kiribati will take advantage of this kind of assistance to ensure that agricultural projects that have been earmarked for development would be implemented accordingly and in a timely fashion, for the nutritional benefits of the people.

Mr Chairman, Kiribati is very fortunate to be endowed with a vast area of healthy and pristine ocean, from which we derive our fish protein requirements for daily sustenance and generation of foreign exchange to the economy. In light of the limited arable land and limited land-based resources, the fisheries and marine resources are considered to be of grater importance to both our social and economic development.

My Government is, therefore, directing greater attention and efforts to develop these very important resources to optimum levels but in a sustainable manner to ensure our future generations will continue to benefit from the same in future years. With limited financial resources and technologies, foreign fishing boats are allowed to harvest these resources through bilateral and multi-lateral arrangements, in order to generate the much-needed foreign exchange for Kiribati. Recently, our local fishermen have complained to the Government that their tuna catch has fallen dramatically and has continued to go down over the past few years. Now it would take them the whole day of fishing before they can have a sizeable catch whereas it would only take them an hour or two five years ago. They are also unhappy to see purse-seining vessels sweeping up and discarding many tons of small tuna around the islands.

To address this, I would like to call on distant water fishing nations to start considering the possibility of enlarging the mesh size of their nets and I would recommend that this matter be considered as an agenda item at a future meeting of FAO and other relevant international and regional bodies. My Government encourages international cooperation in improving the mesh size and design of these nets to prevent further indiscriminate catching of small and non-targeted fish and to ensure greater sustainability of these resources as part and parcel of the food security in the context of the Rome Declaration.

Mr Chairman, let me acknowledge, with appreciation, the TCP formulation mission, which was commissioned by FAO Regional Office in Asia and the Pacific to assess the needs of Island States in Micronesia in the South Pacific region in relation to enhancing fisheries legislation to support community fisheries or community based fisheries management, aquaculture and fish health management. We welcome such timely exploratory missions and fully support this sub-regional programme.

In addition, Kiribati has identified main areas needing further assistance to strengthen fisheries management and institutional capacity and legislative frameworks that would be compatible with international conventions such as the UNCLOS, UN Fish Stocks Agreement, the FAO Compliance Agreement, the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. We look forward to FAO assistance in this important area.

In closing, Mr Chairman, let me reaffirm my Government's commitment to the goals outlined in the Rome Declaration of Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action of 1996 and assure this meeting of our readiness to join in the global flight against hunger and poverty. I believe all of us have already begun the fight in our own grounds and we would now go back from this meeting and continue the fight with renewed vigour, strategy and weapons, both materially and morally, to ensure victory for Rome and for all humanity.

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