From the podium

From the podium

His Excellency Ulukalala Lavaka Ata (Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Tonga)

Excellencies, Colleagues.

The issues of hunger and starvation have already been well enunciated and the enormity of the challenges understood. However, our results have been mixed.

There is no doubt that the two main obstacles to rapid mobilization of our resources are human conflict and the destructive forces of nature. Much has been done to understand and predict the occurrence of natural disasters. Nevertheless, early warning systems and planning for disaster mitigation have been developed and have become much more effective.

It is the destructive element of human nature that poses the greatest threat to our achieving our goals. The sheer scale of the problems and the resources that are needed to be mobilized, if hopelessness and death are to be averted, makes it difficult for the international community to respond quickly.

Unfortunately, it is no longer true that the isolation of the Pacific Islands will leave them untouched by the plight of those that need safe haven from political persecution or a place to raise their children in safety.

For the farmer to do his best he must have peace, be free from conflict and be able to focus his attention on the task at hand. There are enough real challenges for the farmer without been distracted by insecure tenure and difficult access to markets without also having to cope with the breakdown of law and order.

The second dimension that is becoming a considerable source of concern is the changing nature of climatic conditions and the advent of global warming. The small islands of the Pacific do not have distinguished scientists who can make a real contribution to the great debate that is engaging the global community on this matter. However, our only contribution is to inform you of the problems we already experiencing in a very real way. The historic ancient seat of Government of the Kingdom has now been cut by rising tides so that many parts have become small islands.

Thus, understandably it is becoming more difficult to focus on agriculture when the very existence of parts of the Kingdom is now under question.

While I regret to inform the Conference that the northern groups of Tonga were struck by a hurricane last Christmas eve, I am pleased to report that with the generous assistance from our neighbours in the region and through our own efforts, we did not have to call on the assistance that is available from FAO that is available for such emergencies.

Plantation clearing and replanting programmes have resulted in a rapid improvement in the capacity of the effective groups to once again feed themselves. A major boat repair programme to assist the damaged fishing fleet has been launched to ensure that the valuable protein continues to be available and that fish exports are not jeopardized.

Chairman. My administration has embarked on a major government reform programme, the major thrust of which is to trim government's role to its core responsibilities. We are working together with those involved to strengthen the role of the private sector and civil society in matters that affect the well being of the people.

Thus, we hope to create a better climate for rapid economic development, while respecting the cultural values that have sustained our people over the changing millennia. We have also received well-intentioned suggestions regarding democratic changes that might help the process of reform. These are welcome.

However, given that our political system has gradually evolved over the millennia from the cultural roots of ancient Polynesia, and has resulted in the only Kingdom in the Pacific to survive the worst effects of colonialism, we tend to take the longer-term view of the changes we embark upon.

Reform is never easy. Change must ensure that those who are in the greatest need are those most likely to benefit. Reform is vital if there is going to be any real transfer of resources from government to the private sector who will become the main engine for growth. Agriculture, fisheries and tourism have been earmarked for special attention, as well as increased resources. Exports of food and fish products are growing steadily. In the last financial year fisheries exports grew by more than 200 percent, and I anticipate even better results as our small fleet continues to grow and to improve its catch rates.

Finally, I believe that the momentum is going to be dependent on closer cooperation between the Director-General of FAO and those Heads of Government that are in the strongest position to lend the greatest support and to provide the resources necessary to ensure success.

For the rest of us, we also have a powerful role to play to ensure that our national programmes properly address national issues, as well as playing our part in the global coalition against hunger. As for this meeting I am pleased to support the Declaration of the World Food Summit:five years later.

Last, but not least, I would like to add my voice to those who went before me to thank the Italian Government for their warm facilitation of this meeting and the Director-General, Dr. Jacques Diouf and his staff of FAO for their kind assistance.

Thank you very much

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