From the podium

From the podium


His Excellency Cornwall Vere Bird Jr (Minister for Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, Antigua and Barbuda)

I deeply appreciate the warm hospitality extended to us by the Government of Italy. I must also extend my country's continued gratitude to the Director-General, Mr Jacques Diouf, for his ever consciousness of the problems of Small Island States, and his attempt to get us to face up to our problems and become committed to agriculture, before we can stretch forth our hands for further assistance.

The Good Book states that "God helps those who help themselves" and this must be the basis for progress in those developing countries that are vulnerable to hunger – whether through hurricanes, pestilence, "protection of markets" by larger countries or any other means.

We have to show this within our own Governments, despite the fact that we, in the developing countries, as Ministers of Agriculture, face competition from our fellow Ministers of Education, health and Infrastructure, who are usually given the major portions of any budget. Agriculture is normally relegated to a very lowly position. But, it is important that in the developing countries, our governments make a concerted effort to "helping ourselves" and demonstrate a personal commitment in achieving our goals by taking serious steps towards increasing, if not doubling, our agricultural budgets.

In this way, when we approach donor agencies – whether they be the World Bank, the IDB, etc.– they will see that our countries are committed to the cause that we are addressing here today. Bearing in mind that at this World Food Summit: five years later" we have not advanced as we had expected since 1996 and over the next five years, at the present rate, we may yet see an even worsening situation. If we, the developing countries, fail to renew our commitment to agriculture, we will soon realize that we have no one to turn to but ourselves.

In my country, and in many others – represented as a dot on the world map – which is menaced by hurricanes, lack of water and other pestilence, one must realize that if our farmers are subsidised at the rate of 10 percent of an annual budget, which is minuscule in comparison to countries with budgets of trillions of dollars and who are still seeking to increase subsidies to their farmers, despite the rules of the WTO, there can be no level playing field.

We cannot expect much. Because as the larger countries portray the fact that with economies of scale, they will always be able to produce at far less cost than our developing countries, making it viable for the middle man to earn large financial rewards by preferring to sell imported products at prices well below the cost of local production of those same commodities, notwithstanding the great effort and sacrifices endured by our farmers.

He who Has will continue to gain; while he who Has Not will have that little he has taken from him.

It is finally left for us to show that we, in the developing countries, are committed and making every effort to take care of ourselves along with our fellow neighbours. Our leaders must make agriculture an important part of every facet of our economy and they must be emphasized in any speeches they may make. And further, to encourage our Ministers of Finance to insist that agriculture is a major subject in any discussions that they may have with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Development Banks or at any other forum they may participate in.

In this way our countries will demonstrate our commitment to Agriculture and show that we, the developing countries, are making serious attempts at helping ourselves.

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