His Excellency David Kirvalidze (Minister for Agriculture and Food of Georgia)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Please allow me to present my compliments and thanks for the opportunity to participate in this exceptionally important summit. We are targeting a major problem of humanity, how to fight hunger to reduce poverty and to accelerate progress towards the achievement of food security for all. Unfortunately, progress in reaching the objective is still far too slow. Almost 800 million people remain chronically undernourished. These are 800 million reasons for everyone concerned to intensify our efforts, to demonstrate the political will to put an end to hunger, this profound violation of basic human rights.
Most of the vulnerable countries suffering malnutrition and food insecurity generally face, or have just recently faced, civil unrest and recurrent natural disasters as well as economic underdevelopment. Unfortunately, my home country, a transition economy, remains among those nations at risk. The most valuable resources to fight the evil are investments to build the foundations for sustainable, long-term economic growth and so the overall development of agricultural production.
Georgia has one of the oldest traditions of settled agriculture in the world, and today agriculture is the main pillar of the Georgian economy, accounting for an increasing share of GDP, now about 30 percent. This sector also occupies around 55 percent of the total employed population.
Domestic agricultural output could be expanded significantly through improved government policies, better farm management and more effective marketing. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food of Georgia is the main government agency involved in the market-oriented reform of agriculture and food processing now underway in Georgia. From being an autocratic commander of all agricultural activities, the Ministry is transforming itself into an institution promoting and supporting the activity of private producers to increase agricultural incomes, expand production and facilitate exports. We are actively working to reform agricultural taxation. Other priority reforms being adopted include new banking and credit arrangements in rural areas, which is essential, development of the processing industry, new policy for export promotion, support for environmentally sound agriculture, creation of an extension service, and much else. We believe that agriculture, the largest and currently one of the most vibrant sectors of the Georgian economy, will continue to be a key source of sustainable economic growth and so ensure food security and help reduce poverty in the country. The main strategy is to strengthen Georgia's independence by using its agri-food sector potential to meet domestic demand and increase income from exports.
But, unfortunately, the stability of developing and traditional economies is fragile. When natural disasters occur they can be catastrophic, as the extremely severe impact of the extended drought in the spring and summer of 2000 and 2001 in Georgia shows.
The drought almost completely destroyed the major crops and completely ruined the winter pastures. The lack of forecasting systems and the absence of savings among farmers, as well as the poor functioning of the insurance system, significantly worsened the impact of this drought. However, the drought has demonstrated the urgency of well-aimed reforms in this sector. At these difficult moments, I am delighted to say that the governments of friendly countries and various international donor organizations immediately responded to Georgia's appeal for assistance and provided indispensable support. I am particularly pleased to again express deep gratitude to FAO, which did an outstanding job of coordinating and directing the flow of international humanitarian aid to the most affected areas of Georgia.
Of course, the role of FAO in the rehabilitation and development of Georgian agriculture is not limited to emergency activities only. FAO is now carrying out the sector rehabilitation project in Georgia. They are very important for us since they created solid foundations for sustainable agriculture.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Government of Georgia place very serious emphasis on the sustainable growth of the Georgian economy. The agricultural sector is a key source of growth in other countries with economies in transition as well. These countries now face the challenge of revitalizing the traditional areas of national agriculture, utilizing local potential and natural resources and developing the processing industry. These goals can be achieved only with powerful support from the international community and, particularly, FAO which has never abandoned them even during the most difficult times and continues to actively monitor the situation. I believe that the Georgian Government, as well as other governments' decisive steps to reform and restructure agricultural activities, should be combined with the international community's on-going support through humanitarian aid and technical assistance programmes that not just feed the vulnerable population (thus it is very important, too), but target the sustainable development of various sub-sectors of the country's agriculture, make people work and earn by themselves.
This will enable us not only to be freed of burning problems like hunger, undernourishment, food insecurity, etc., but encourage economic growth, enhance the quality of life and participate in the world economy as an equal. FAO remains the main catalyst of worldwide agricultural improvement and we should support it in turn.
Georgia faces a number of serious economic difficulties today. But my country is a part of the international community and actively participates in combating global problems. The united efforts of the whole world can make it possible to move faster towards the goals set by the first World Food Summit.
There is nothing that cannot be achieved when we work together.
I would like to remind you of an old saying about the Soviet and Soviet times. There was a general question about what happened in the Soviet Union and Japan when fish disappears from the supermarket and the response that the Soviets immediately start to have meetings and continue meetings and more meetings and the Japanese go to the sea to fish.
So we definitely need to start with action. We should adopt more urgent, targeted measures quickly, set priorities, not simply to assign humanitarian aid but provide the assistance and investments needed to build the foundations for sustainable long-term economic growth, constantly monitor progress and change our actions if necessary. It would be much more efficient if beneficiaries of international assistance could be gradually transformed from passive consumers to active partners in order to participate in handling and combating the problems themselves. Then, I am convinced, we will attain the goal: universal observance of the fundamental human right of access to safe and abundant food for all.
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