From the podium

From the podium

His Excellence Navin Chandarpal (Minister for Agriculture of the Republic of Guyana)

Mr Chairman, Honourable Heads of State and Government, Distinguished Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

In this very hall in 1996, a similar gathering of world leaders made seven commitments in the Rome Declaration on World Food Security based on “the conviction that the multifaceted character of food security necessitates concerted national action and effective international efforts to supplement and reinforce national action.”

Many actions were initiated by the Government of Guyana to implement national aspects of the Plan of Action. In the actions linked to participatory and sustainable food, agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development policies and practices, we have received assistance from supportive countries and multilateral agencies. However, the promised technical and financial resources have not been provided by many who also made commitments. Instead, many pressures have been added by the inconsiderate and counterproductive actions of the more powerful nations on trade issues.

Small vulnerable economies, such as those of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), face many challenges to our food security, export opportunities and general well being of our rural populations. We have witnessed severe erosion of our food security parameters, including our balance of agricultural trade. This is taking place at a time when earnings from our traditional exports, such as sugar, rice and bananas, have been declining and when the trading arrangements that underpinned these industries have come under severe threat. Further, our ability to expand our non-traditional exports has been hampered by a number of factors and we have even witnessed declines in areas that were once thought promising.

The international trading environment for agricultural products has not improved. We were led to believe, following the conclusion of the Uruguay Round Agreements, that the prospects for our agricultural exports would have increased dramatically. Instead, we have witnessed some of the lowest agricultural commodity prices since 1996. Subsidies and other measures applied by the world’s richest countries continue to increase exponentially, while our ability to provide even the most basic services to our farmers is compromised by our heavy debt burden and restrictions imposed by multilateral funding agencies.
And yet, we continue to be pressured into further opening up our markets, without any regard being paid to the welfare of our farming and rural communities as a whole. The perils posed by the deterioration of rural life are immense and threaten to eat at the heart of our very social fabric. Unfortunately, food is being used as a weapon in the economic arsenal of many powerful countries.

It is therefore opportune that, five years after the convening of the historic World Food Summit in 1996, we again gather to take stock of our successes and failures as a world community. The record is indeed a depressing one. If we are to make measurable progress in solving the problems of hunger, the international community must commit to fashioning an agricultural trading system that is based on equity and respect for the livelihoods of the rural poor. Without this, we will be doomed in our efforts to eliminate poverty and hunger, and our peoples will be further marginalized within the world economy.

We were happy to have had the opportunity at the recent FAO Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean to focus on food security and other matters. That meeting brought into sharp focus not only the need to transform our agriculture and rural communities, but the substantial resources that would be required to do so. Our capacity to engage in international trade negotiations continues to be weak. Our institutional capacity in areas such as technology transfer, product development, marketing, agricultural health and food safety remains fragile. Modern communications technology has not significantly penetrated our farming communities. To this end, we must add the still unknown threats and potentials posed by new biotechnologies.

We greatly appreciate the support that we have received from FAO over the years. More specifically, we commend to all our friends in the donor community the initiative of the Director-General in developing a Regional Programme for Food Security for CARIFORUM countries. This is an initiative that promises to relieve many of the constraints facing Caribbean agriculture and focuses on improving the lot of those who otherwise lack the resources to raise themselves out of poverty. It also fits well with the other initiatives that are being pursued in agriculture at the CARICOM level.

We must, however, signal that for technical support to be fully effective, there must be an enabling environment at both the international and domestic levels. For our part, we have followed most of the prescriptions of the multilateral and bilateral assistance agencies in reforming our macro-economic policies, often with vary painful consequences. In return, we have yet to reap the promised benefits of increased international competitiveness.

Mr Chairman, the Director-General of FAO highlighted the seriousness of the task before us when he revealed that the current rate of reducing the number of undernourished will cause the target to be met 45 years behind schedule. The obstacles are clearly deep-rooted and fundamental.

The direction of the process of globalization contradicts the expressed objectives of the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and all other Global Summit Declarations, including the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the Millennium Declaration. Globalization is supposed to emphasize greater cooperation among states to allow all to pursue a path of sustainable development. Unfortunately, globalization is used to convert every human or material resource into a commodity priced by market forces.

Globalization must be given a new meaning. Instead of the winner-takes-all philosophy that now seems to guide our international relations, we must develop an ethos that places human development at the center of all our transactions.

International relations are also characterized by deepening tensions, conflicts and deep urges to plunge into wars. How can we achieve food security when the 0.7 percent of GDP committed to ODA is avoided, but billions of dollars are readily dished out for weapons of mass destruction?

As we meet in this historic city surrounded by the images of Imperial Rome, we are reminded of the rise and fall of that great Empire. The people of the world want bread, not circuses. They want to be trained as farmers, not gladiators. They want ploughs and tractors, not swords and tanks.

As we recommit ourselves to the noble objectives of the World Food Summit, let us resolve not to waste another five years. As we leave Rome a second time, let us take warning once more from the pages of Roman history, and resolve not to fiddle while our world is burning.

In the words of the beloved late President of Guyana, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, “let us move forward purposefully towards doing those things which are necessary to save our ‘global village’ from the social explosions which threaten to engulf us. ...Let us replace the current global chaos and disorder with a New Global Human Order."

I thank you Mr Chairman.

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