From the podium

From the podium

His Excellency Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh (President of the Republic of the Gambia)

Mr Chairman,
Your Majesties,
Heads of State and Government,
Director-General of FAO,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

May I, first and foremost, join my colleagues in congratulating you on your election as Chairman of this august gathering and for the efficient manner you have handled the conduct of the proceedings of this Summit.

I wish to also size the opportunity to thank the Director-General, Dr Jacques Diouf and the staff of FAO of the UN, for the excellent coordination and quality documentation provided for this Summit.

Given the abundance of resources supported by current scientific and technological advancement, it is the responsibility of all mankind, regardless of creed or political affiliation, to strive towards the eradication of hunger and malnutrition and ensure food for all in a world of tranquillity and progress. The World Food Summit: five years later is therefore very relevant and timely, affording us the opportunity to renew our commitments and action at the highest level of political decision-making.

Mr Chairman, the challenges we have resolved to confront during the 1996 World Food Summit remain daunting. In some cases, particularly in many sub-Saharan African countries, the food security situation has indeed worsened. We must, therefore, remain resolute in our commitment to fighting poverty and hunger through our individual country efforts as well as at the regional and global levels through effective cooperation and collaboration. Our objectives for ensuring food security for all people are inextricably linked to the maintenance of world peace and security as well as respect, fair play and justice in the interactions between nations, particularly the economic relationship between rich and poor nations.

Poverty, Mr Chairman, in itself is the major cause of food insecurity and hence sustainable progress in poverty eradication is critical to improved access to food. International injustice, wars and other forms of conflict, terrorism, corruption and environmental degradation also contribute significantly to food insecurity. We must therefore, collectively and individually, fight against these problems if we are to achieve our objective of attaining food security.

On the other hand, we must embrace the principles of free and fair trade, democracy, the promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, the full and equal participation of men and women in all endeavours as well as ensuring that they are justly rewarded for their efforts. In this regard, we urge the international community to ensure fair play in the pricing of raw materials, which constitute the bulk of export and revenue for the Least Developed Countries. In striving to eradicate hunger and poverty, the international community has also to mobilize against unfair trade practices, particularly the provision of huge subsidies to agricultural producers in the north. In this way, we will guarantee fair marketing and competition at all levels.

Another crippling phenomenon inhibiting the attainment of our quest for food security, Mr Chairman, is the debt burden. Unless there is an across-the-board cancellation of debt, the gap between rich and poor will continue to widen, as highly indebted countries will find it more and more difficult to muster the necessary resources to meet their pressing development needs. Our belief, Mr Chairman, is that unless there is a total debt cancellation for all Highly Indebted Poor Countries and a fair and transparent pricing system for all agricultural produce as well as a level playing field, our goals for food security and poverty eradication will continue to elude us.

Mr Chairman, Distinguished Delegates, on the home front, my Government and our development partners are committed to nurture and sustain our resolve for self-reliance in achieving national food security. Over the past 12 years, the share of food aid in our national cereal balance sheet declined from 13 percent in 1990 to less than one percent in 2002. Indeed agricultural productivity in the Gambia has grown by about 8.8 percent in the last two years. This is evidenced by a 28 percent increase in cereal production, a 22 percent increase in groundnuts (which is both a cash and food crop) and, most importantly, a 22 percent increase in the production of the staple food, rice. The establishment of a National Food Self-Sufficiency Task Force, involving all stakeholders, under my chairmanship also demonstrates this commitment.

Mr Chairman, given the large proportion of youth in our population and in order to meet the objectives set in the Fourth Forum of the 1996 World Food Summit, my Government has established a National Youth Trust Fund for Food Security, whose major focus is to provide funding to youth groups to enable them undertake viable and sustainable agricultural projects.

Conscious also of the close linkage between food security and health, my Government is making relentless efforts in ensuring a safe, adequate, assessable and reliable water supply. A nationwide Vitamin A Supplementation Programme for women and children, as well as an Iron Supplementation Programme, are also in place resulting in declining child malnutrition rates, as evidenced by the reduction in undernutrition from 21 to 17 percent and stunting from 23 to 19 percent in the period 1996 to 2000.

Mr Chairman, the importance of food security to the prosperity and peace of the people of any national cannot be over emphasized. The Government of the Gambia will always positively contribute to the realization of the objectives of the Summit and resolves to pursue vigorously the tenets of this laudable undertaking in the interests of world peace and the future wellbeing of all mankind.

Mr Chairman, I want to take the opportunity to thank the Government and people of Italy for the hospitality extended to me and my delegation since our arrival in this historic and beautiful city of Rome.

I hope that this Summit will live up to the challenge of overcoming hunger and not be another isolated event in the history of our time. I have firm belief in our collective ability to meet the objectives we have set ourselves, but it has to be a concerted effort by all of us.

I thank you all for your kind attention.

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