From the podium

From the podium

His Excellency Kinzang Dorji (Minister for Agriculture of the Kingdom of Bhutan)

At the outset, I have the honour to convey to this distinguished gathering the greetings of His Majesty King Kigme Singye Wangchuck and his good wishes for a successful outcome of the summit.

On behalf of my delegation and on my own behalf, I would like to acknowledge the generous hospitality accorded by the Government and the people of Italy; and commend the Director-General of FAO and his staff for the excellent arrangements made for this meeting.

Mr Chairman, at the 1996 World Food Summit, the Heads of State and Government pledged to achieve food security for all and to take immediate steps to reduce the number of undernourished people by half by the year 2015. The Summit also recognized that the main cause of food insecurity was poverty and that sustainable progress in poverty eradication was critical to improve access to food. Unfortunately, as we have noted, the progress to date has been disappointingly slow. FAO reports indicate that the number of hungry people is decreasing every year by six million only, which is far short of the target of 22 million. Therefore, this follow-up summit is a timely step to reassess the situation and to adopt concrete remedial measures.

Mr Chairman, while the global scenario is not very encouraging, I am pleased to report that Bhutan has made significant progress in uplifting the socio-economic condition of its people. Following the World Food Summit in 1996, Bhutan has formulated the Vision 2020 document, which contains many of the policy instruments and strategies recommended by the Summit. These policies and strategies are, in fact, integral elements for the achievement of our national development goal of "Gross National Happiness (GNH)". The concept of Gross National Happiness, articulated by no other than our beloved King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who has been the fountain-head of philosophy, concepts and policies of national development for nearly three decades, argues that development has many more dimensions than those associated with Gross Domestic Product, and that development should be understood as a process that seeks to maximize happiness rather than mere economic growth. The goal of Gross National Happiness is to be attained through: equitable socio-economic development; preservation of the environment; promotion of cultural heritage; and good governance.

To give meaning and expression to Gross National Happiness, we have adopted "The Middle Path" as our development, which is based on Buddhist principles. We believe that an attack on poverty need not necessarily be at the cost of erosion of our traditional values. Nor do we believe that economic development through industrialization should take place at the cost of our environment. Thus, we have taken a very cautious approach in embracing modern technologies to ensure that their negative intrusions on our social and cultural values are minimal, just as we have deliberately foregone lucrative economic opportunities through logging, mining and manufacturing in favour of long-term sustainable development. I am pleased to report here that, so far, our development efforts have yielded good dividends without compromising our traditional values or our environment.

Mr Chairman, on the issue of good governance, we have made very significant progress during the past five years. By July this year, elected heads of the lowest administrative units, known as the Gups, will be delegated with full executive and administrative responsibilities, thus completing the decentralization process we initiated in Bhutan in 1981. Furthermore, a momentous change in our country's political history was introduced in 1998 when, despite the collective wishes of the people, His Majesty the King has prevailed in devolving full executive powers from the Throne to an elected Council of Ministers. We are at present in the process of drafting a written Constitution for the Kingdom, which is another milestone in the democratization process initiated by His Majesty the King.

Mr Chairman, while we draw immense satisfaction from the modest achievements we have made, the challenges ahead of us are as daunting as they are for any other least developed country. Being landlocked and fully mountainous, we are highly vulnerable to natural disasters as well as to political and economic developments beyond our border. Within the country, we face tremendous difficulties in delivering our development services due to the difficult terrain and the isolated and scattered nature of our settlements. A large segment of our farming population is still unable to either increase their production or market their produce due to lack of road access. Under these circumstances, we are also unable to adopt an effective food distribution and marketing system, thereby creating periodic shortages of food supply to many remote areas.

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, if you would agree that there is more than enough food and other resources in this world for every human being on this planet, then the issue in front of us, I believe, is not so much about the lack of resources but of political will and commitment on the part of both donor and recipient countries. The challenge for the rich countries lies in their willingness to enhance official development assistance to poor countries, to support open and fair international trading systems and to remove the scourge of hunger and poverty from this world. Likewise, the challenge for the poor countries lies in their commitment to ensure good governance and prudent use of internal resources and external assistance and thereby to eradicate food insecurity and malnutrition. In this context, I would like to urge the industrialized nations, through this Summit, to enhance their ODA obligations at least to the levels agreed recently in Monterrey.

On the allocation of ODA funds, I would like this Summit to note the fact that more and more developed countries are shying away from investment in the rural sector. As a result, the divide between the rich and the poor is widening. This is highly undesirable. Therefore, this Summit should seek a readjustment in the ODA policies of the donor countries as well as international financial institutions in favour of investing in the rural sector so as to eradicate hunger and poverty. Unless this happens, countries like Bhutan, whose economies are dominated by agriculture, would become further marginalized.

Mr Chairman, before I conclude, I would like to state that Bhutan supports and endorses the Declaration of the World Food Summit:five years later on International Alliance against Hunger. My country is committed to implement the Plan of Action to fulfil the Commitments made by the Heads of State and Government in 1996.

I wish to end my statement by quoting, even at the risk of repeating what many speakers have already said before me, the great Chinese philosopher, Confucius, who said, "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life."

Tashi Delek.

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