From the podium

From the podium

His Excellency Ajit Singh (Minister for Agriculture of the Republic of India)

Mr. Chairman, of behalf of the Government of India, I extend my warmest greetings to you and to this distinguished Assembly.

At the outset, I wish to compliment His Excellency, the President of Italy, for his inspiring Inaugural Address. He has very aptly brought out the issues to be addressed in achieving food security for all peoples of the world. His suggestions merit serious consideration in formulating strategies for the eradication of global hunger and poverty.

My delegation commends the efforts of the Food and Agriculture Organization in focusing attention on the problem of hunger, rural poverty and food insecurity in the world. The World Food summit, in 1996, had reaffirmed the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. The Heads of State and the Governments of participating nations in the Summit had pledged their political commitment to halving the number of undernourished people no later than 2015. The rate of progress so far, however, raises doubts about whether the World Food Summit target can be achieved by 2015. This underscores the need for reconsideration of strategies, policies and programmes, to the achieve the World Food Summit goals.

The figures released by the FAO show that the rate of reduction in the number of undernourished has slowed down and agricultural growth has slackened since 1996, falling to one percent in 2000. The Asia-Pacific Region alone has to feed fifty-seven percent of the world's population from only thirty-three percent of the world's arable lands, which has also been shrinking at a much faster rate than in the rest of the world.

Over-exploitation of marginal lands; water depletion and contamination; loss of bio-diversity; all these need to be monitored and curtailed. Agricultural practices must be re-oriented in such a way that they yield the best returns per unit of land, water, money and time. Sustained and continuous efforts are needed at national and international levels to ensure livelihood security for all people and to translate commitments into concrete action.

With regard to my country, Mr. Chairman, let me mention that we have been able to reduce the percentage of people living below the poverty line from thirty-six percent in 1995, to twenty-six percent in 2000. In absolute numbers there has been a decline of about seventy million in five years. At this rate, we are confident of achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of hungry well before the targeted date of 2015. We are, however, not complacent about the task at hand as we realize that a huge distance is yet to be covered for achievement of our goal.

The problem of food security can be very broadly divided into two parts: food security at macro level, and food security at micro level. As regards food security at macro level, the focus is on overall agricultural production, particularly the production of food. It needs to be ensured that the total foodgrains production in the country at least matches, if not exceeds, the "normative requirement".

Realising this, the Government of India has taken a number of steps to increase agricultural production and productivity. Agriculture has always been accorded high priority in Indian planning. Special focus has been placed on agriculture, research and technology, and its extension to the fields of the farmers. A pro-active price support regime for major agricultural commodities accompanied by market support regime; provision of irrigation facilities; promotion of use of quality inputs, and better farm management practices are central elements of our strategy. In recent years we have placed particular emphasis on diversification within agriculture, and from agriculture to horticulture, agro-forestry, animal husbandry, fisheries, etc., in order to provide enhanced livelihood security for our rural population.

As a result of these efforts, production of foodgrains in the country has increased from about 50 million tonnes in 1950-51, to 211 million tonnes in 2001-2002. This is in excess of the normative requirement of about 195 million tonnes, calculated on the norm that an individual needs 182.5 kilogrammes of foodgrain per annum. In addition, the country has also made significant progress in the production of meat and meat products; eggs and poultry; milk and milk products; fruits and vegetables, etc. India is now the largest producer of milk and pulses, and the second largest producer of wheat, rice, fruits and vegetables. The country has reached a situation where we hold foodgrain stocks of around sixty million tonnes and are in a position to export them in large quantities.

In terms of specific initiatives, the Government of India has launched a regionally-differentiated strategy, based on agro-climatic regional planning to narrow down the regional and crop imbalances so as to accelerate growth in every region. Special efforts have been made to support the role of women as farmers and producers of crops and livestock; as users of technology; and as active agents in marketing, processing and storage of food, as well as in the role of agricultural labourers. The mainstreaming of women in agriculture is a special priority.

Some recent measures to enhance food production, food accessibility and equitable distribution have been the macro management of agricultural planning; a special programme for on-farm water management; natural resource management and watershed development programmes; treatment of degraded lands; reforms in the seeds sector; expansion of farm credit including micro-credit; introduction of viable agricultural insurance schemes; launching of separate technology missions for integrated development of horticulture, cotton and coconut; support for agricultural research and extension; strengthening of storage infrastructure and postharvest management.

Recognizing the critical role played by farmers in a varietal development through their traditional practices and knowledge, and in order to provide a boost to plant breeding, we have recently enacted a unique legislation for the protection of plant varieties and farmers' rights. Yesterday, on behalf of my Government, I have deposited the instrument of ratification and signed the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. For prevention, mitigation and relief in natural disasters, a major initiative has been taken to link development programmes with disaster management and to create additional capacity for tackling such situations.

The livestock sector plays a vital role in the Indian economy and provides employment and income to a large proportion of rural households. We are making special efforts to step up investment in this sector and to address pressing problems, such as Foot-and-Mouth Disease. We request that a comprehensive programme for South Asia be undertaken to tackle this disease that causes enormous losses in the region each year.

Though the country has become self-reliant in foodgrains at the
macro-level, yet the problem persists at the micro-level. Micro-level food security is our major problem. The real challenge facing the country now is one of reducing regional food disparities; creating self-employment and wage opportunities; augmenting income levels of the poor and promoting sustainable livelihoods so as to ensure that the poorer sections of society have access to adequate and nutritious food. The approach adopted by us has three basic elements: for the labour force, create self-employment and wage earning opportunities; for those outside the labour force, such as children non-working women, pregnant and nursing mothers, old and destitutes, supplement nutritional requirements through special distribution packages; for the poor, establish a targeted public distribution system providing food at subsidized rates to the most needy.

I must specifically mention the recently introduced 'Food for Work (Employment Guarantee) Scheme' which will enhance food security, provide guaranteed employment in rural areas, create durable social and economic assets, and promote infrastructure development. The Scheme will be available to the rural poor in need of wage employment. The Government of India has allotted five million tonnes of foodgrains for this programme for generating one billions man days of work. The public distribution system we are operating is one of the largest in the world, which facilitates access to food for the poorest sections of society at subsidized prices all over the country.

I must, however, emphasize that in order to support national efforts, a conducive international climate is imperative. The trade regime in particular must support the efforts of farmers of developing countries who need a level playing field, and protection from unfair competition. Food security in India, as in other developing countries, is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the dynamics of trade liberalization.

It is, indeed, an irony that while developed countries extend subsidies worth hundreds of billions of dollars to their comparatively-small and
already-affluent farming communities, barriers are raised to developing countries supporting their vast multitudes of small and marginal farmers. These market distortions threaten to undermine the agricultural trade reform process.

For realization of the objective of a fair and market oriented trading system in agriculture, it is imperative that limits on agricultural subsidies in developed countries are imposed and levels of spending under agricultural support programmes are substantially reduced. To protect the interests and livelihood of farmers in India and other developing countries engaged in subsistence farming, we have proposed the creation of a Food Security Box in the on-going negotiations on the World Trade Organization Agreement on Agriculture. We hope this proposal will receive widest support.

Mr. Chairman, we are concerned about the declining levels of Official Development Assistance, particularly in the field of agriculture and rural development. We hope that the commitments expressed at the Monterrey Conference and the consensus reflected in the Declaration will be actualized in terms of higher levels of multilateral, as well as bilateral, funding for agriculture and rural development.

Hunger has no boundaries, no citizenship, and no ideology. Mankind must fight hunger as an indivisible entity by putting up a united front. The International Alliance Against Hunger must attain the level of unity and singularity of purpose needed to combat it in any form at any place.

As I have tried to show, the strategy must be multi-pronged at both national and international level. Not only should we combine sound national policies, good governance and an equitable international environment, but also we should introduce a greater degree of sensitivity and morality in our battle against hunger and poverty everywhere. As Mahatma Gandhi said: "Nature has enough for everyone's need, not for everyone's greed."

Thank you.

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