From the podium

From the podium

His Excellency Motiur Rahman Nizami (Minister for Agriculture of the People's Republic of Bangladesh)

In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful.

Honourable Chairperson, Honourable Heads of States and Governments, Heads of Delegations, Ministers, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Assalamu Alaikum. Peace be with you.

It is a great pleasure for me to be present at this first Summit of the millennium, the World Food Summit: five years later. It is, no doubt, a noble endeavour towards improving the quality of life of all human beings in the world.

The basic objective of this Summit is to provide an evaluative account of the follow-up actions on the seven commitments to which world leaders pledged their political will at the World Food Summit in 1996. The pledge was based on the intolerable fact that more than 800 million people throughout the world, particularly in developing countries, were undernourished. The immediate commitment was to reduce the number of undernourished people to half of their present level by 2015.

The commitments and the Plan of Action will remain as pious wishes unless we are determined to make hard choices to overcome the technical, social and political hurdles that hamper our fight against hunger and poverty. The World Food Summit Plan of Action contains a detailed roadmap to achieve food security. Hunger is a global problem and is often associated with poverty. As is widely known, availability of adequate food by no means guarantees access to food. The multi-dimensional nature of hunger is clearly recognized in the Plan of Action with its seven commitments.

Mr Chairperson, the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the Plan of Action adopted at the last Summit recognize that the LDCs are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity, and special measures have to be taken to overcome their problems. The food problem of disaster-prone LDCs, like Bangladesh, is acute. It is, therefore, essential that the international community should mount meaningful, effective and more active programmes for ensuring food security in the developing countries, particularly in the LDCs.

I would like to take this opportunity to renew Bangladesh's full commitment to implement the Plan of Action. We have already put in place a number of measures in line with the commitments that we made in Rome in 1996. As a result of an enabling economic, social and political environment in my country, we have achieved a sustained average growth rate of over five percent over the last five years, with the agriculture sector, in particular, showing robust growth despite floods.

We have mainstreamed gender issues in all our development interventions. Empowerment of women in Bangladesh, mainly through creating income-earning opportunities in off-farm sectors and human resource formation, can become models for others to follow. The adult literacy rate has reached 64 percent in 2000 from 35 percent in 1991. Gender balance has been achieved in access to education for girls.

Mr Chairperson, agriculture is at the top of our development agenda. The reason is simple enough: we have to feed 2.2 percent of the world's population from 0.096 percent of the world's land area.

Our grain production increased from 19 million tonnes in 1991-1992 to nearly 22 million tons in 1998-1999. Following the Plan of Action, we have also implemented a number of measures, which helped us to produce over 26 million metric tonnes of food grains in 2000-2001, compared to about 22 million metric tonnes in 1998-1999.

These measures included: a New Agriculture Extension Policy (NAEP) in 1997; formulation of National Agriculture Policy (NAP) in 1999; establishment of a National Food for All Campaign Committee; approval of a National Plan of Action for Nutrition; a national programme document to implement the Special Programme for Food Security with FAO's assistance; and an increase of nearly 30 percent in budgetary allocations to agriculture and rural development.

If the growth rate achieved during the last years is sustained for the next decade, the crossover time from poverty is likely to be 2012. But, it will also depend on the continuation of an enabling political, social and economic environment and timely intervention to recover losses stemming from natural calamities.

All of these measures have paid handsome dividends. Our per capita income has gone up to US$ 360 from US$ 250 in the early 1990s. The proportion of people living below the poverty line has come down below 44 percent. We have made significant achievements in the field of poverty alleviation in the last few years. Yet, we cannot afford to be complacent.

While sustained economic growth has been the locomotive behind our poverty alleviation programme, we have also witnessed a further increase in inequality in society. We need to further strengthen our determination to reverse this trend.

Mr Chairperson, Bangladesh has been pursuing people-centered, pro-poor growth policies. All our efforts are directed towards attaining sustainable growth in all sectors of the economy, in particular agriculture. We have moderated our growth-oriented policies by provision of special development support measures for poor farmers and labourers along with "safety net" programmes for the disabled and hardcore poor.

In the agriculture sector, our short-term strategy to achieve food security aims at: adequate domestic production of food grains; building up of buffer stocks to meet production shortfalls and to tide over emergency situations; an open trade regime allowing for timely import when needed; targeted distribution of food and non-food items to poor and vulnerable groups through various programmes; and price stabilization to assist both consumers and producers.

Today we stand at a crossroads. We can choose to move forward by truly committing ourselves to take concerted actions to end the scourge of hunger from the world. Our pronouncements at this Summit should not once more add to the existing overload of clichés. It is time to act. I shudder to think about the negative backlashes and the catastrophe that will follow if we fail to address this man-made monster of hunger, poverty and deprivation in all earnestness.

One indispensable precondition for this, Distinguished Chairperson, is an everlasting global peace, for only in peace can we hope to achieve our goal.

I thank you all for your patience.

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