From the podium

From the podium

Dr. Abdelouahed Belkeziz (Secretary General, Organization of the Islamic Conference - OIC)

Mr Chairman, it is indeed a great honour and privilege for me to address this singularly important Summit, which seeks to address a major problem of our time, i.e. famine in the world. Allow me at the outset, Mr Chairman, to congratulate you on your assumption of the chairmanship of this Summit, which I am certain is a tribute to your vast experience, wisdom and dedication to the promotion of multilateral cooperation.

Needless to say, we appreciate the role played by FAO in its efforts to eliminate famine from the world, and in this connection, we commend the dynamic leadership of its Director-General, Dr Jacques Diouf and we wish him even more success in his mission at the head of this important institution.

Mr Chairman, as food is one of the basic necessities of life, the problem of chronic food shortages in many developing countries, particularly in the Least Developed Countries, needs to be addressed in the overall context of the economic situation of these countries. It may be observed that the efforts aimed at providing food for citizens have alarming negative impacts on economic development in many countries. Rising import bills for foodstuffs seriously impede the realization of their development goals. Although the desire to achieve food security under such circumstances is an essential objective worthy of encouragement and priority, it is difficult to realize.

FAO was established in 1945 with the mandate of "ensuring humanity's freedom from hunger". Yet reading this objective requires much action despite dramatic achievements in agricultural technology. The phenomenon of hunger and malnutrition is a cause of further concern when one realizes that one-fifth of the world population still suffer from it.

According to FAO estimates, more than 680 million people will suffer from hunger by 2010 if no speedy and effective action is taken. It may be recalled that the half of the world’s population who face, or are threatened, by famine are from sub-Saharan Africa, a region deserving particular care and attention. This situation was highlighted in a Symposium on Food Security organized in Dakar in 1991 by the Government of Senegal and the OIC, in cooperation with FAO, the Islamic Development Bank and the African Development Bank. Adopting a Declaration on Food Security Decade in the OIC Member States, the Sixth Islamic Summit Conference held in Dakar in 1991 called for extending assistance to African Member States for speedy and effective implementation of their national strategy for food security.

The Member States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference are all developing countries, with a large majority of them having agro-based economies. The problem of food shortages remains one of the most acute problems facing many of these countries. While there has been partial progress in increasing food production in some of these States, the rise in domestic food production in Senegal has not kept pace with the rapid population growth. Furthermore, many of these countries also suffer from cyclical ravages of natural disasters such as floods, cyclones and drought. As a result, very few of these countries are self-sufficient in food production, with most being net importers of food.

External debts prevent the majority of developing States from affording the necessary foreign currency resources to meet the increasingly hefty bill for food imports. When food products are available in the markets, the purchasing power of citizens does not allow them to buy these products. This vicious circle of poverty and hunger is the reality of most developing countries. The OIC Member States are aware of this reality.

The Plan of Action to Strengthen Economic and Commercial Cooperation among the Member States identified food and agriculture as one of its priority areas for collective action. The Plan established a number of objectives and programmes of action to be taken in order to ensure food security for the populations of our countries. Among the main objectives of the Plan are strengthening the food-producing potential of Member States; the necessity of maintaining food reserves for ensuring food security in accordance with the OIC Declaration on Food Security Decades aimed at achieving food security; eliminating poverty; fighting natural disasters; creating a link between the agricultural sector and the other economic sectors, through development of the infrastructures in rural areas. The programmes of action envisage a large number of procedures to be undertaken by the Member States, aimed at promoting collective self-reliance by ensuring a permanent supply of products for the Member States and by improving the purchasing power of their citizens through the adoption of efficient and useful programmes to combat poverty.

It is widely understood that the lack of purchasing power of poor people is the primary cause of hunger. Hence, raising the income of the rural poor is the key to the elimination of hunger. That is why the OIC Member States have always considered the eradication of poverty as one of the priorities of the OIC Economic Cooperation Programme. Indeed, in order for our populations to have enough to eat, not only do we have to make these products available by increasing the foreign currency reserves of our States, but our populations must also be able to purchase the products they need.

We have the pleasure, in this regard, to express our appreciation for the extreme attention paid by FAO to this issue by giving maximum importance to achieving food security in Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries, including many OIC Member States. We especially commend FAO's policy to integrate agriculture and livestock farming, while ensuring the protection of the natural environment.

In this connection, I would like to recall the OIC/IDB/CILSS joint Programme for the African Sahel, which is aimed at alleviating the effects of drought and fostering sustainable development in the Sahel Region. Cooperation with FAO has all along been a key element in our efforts at the OIC to deal with the problems of food security and agriculture. We attach particular importance to the cooperation agreements that the OIC has with FAO and the WFP. We are determined to pursue our cooperation efforts with these two institutions, as well as with other UN Organizations.

We will continue to accord special importance to the regular coordination meetings between the UN Agencies and OIC-affiliated institutions in view of their effective role in coordinating our actions in the fields of development, in combating poverty and in implementing food security programmes in our countries.
Mr Chairman, the world is anxiously striving to increase the production of food supplies to meet the needs of human societies, and avoid the use of anything potentially damaging to farming products, particularly man-made detrimental effects. Israeli occupation forces in Palestine are deliberately sabotaging and devastating farms, bulldozing farmland, uprooting trees, destroying crops, irrigation systems, and stored food supplies, as well as demolishing agricultural machinery. These are actions condemned by the international community as constituting illegal and abusive practices, punishable according to international agreements and covenants relevant to the duties of any power that is occupying other people's territory. In this particular case, a large segment of the society depends in its livelihood on food assistance from the UNHCR, the International Society of the Red Cross and other sources. This is compounded by the fact that a big percentage of men employed in agriculture and food projects have been either detained, injured or assassinated, thereby further aggravating the ordeal endured by a large section of the Palestinian people, worsening the poverty situation, and heightening people's perceptions of social injustice.

Mr Chairman, five years have passed since launching the efforts to make the objective of ensuring food security for all the top priority which the international community is striving to realize. Today, we need to perform an objective assessment of the implementation of the commitments we made at the World Food Summit. As Mr Jacques Diouf, the Director-General of FAO, has pointed out, we must follow this assessment, find ways and means of providing the necessary resources to achieve the objectives which the international community set five years ago. There is a need to have initiatives in place commensurate with the aspirations of the international community to rid the world of the scourge of hunger and malnutrition. If humanity was able to reach the moon in the Twentieth Century, it is duty-bound to eliminate hunger in the world in the early decades of the Twenty-first Century. Undoubtedly, it is able to do that. I am confident that this Summit will adopt the necessary measures to safeguard our populations and future generations against hunger and malnutrition.

I must not fail, in conclusion, to assure you of the permanent resolve of the OIC to contribute, in a bigger and more effective manner, to support the efforts exerted by FAO and other international organizations concerned with achieving the noble objectives of this Summit.

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