From the podium

From the podium

His Excellency Atis Slakteris (Minister for Agriculture of the Republic of Latvia)

Mr Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. I would like to express my gratitude for this excellent opportunity to address this distinguished forum. We cannot overestimate the international importance of the World Food Summit: five years later. Six years ago we came together in Rome at the World Food Summit to confirm once more right of the mankind to wholesome and safe food. In 1996, leaders of the world's states and Governments or their plenipotentiaries adopted the Rome Declaration and the Plan of Action as they considered it inadmissible that more than 800 million people all over the world are undernourished. Recommendations covered by the Plan of Action comply with provisions of the United Nations Charter and international law. It is the duty of Governments to do the utmost to put an end, first of all in their own countries, to such a situation, and as far as possible, to assist other countries.

Twelve years after the restoration of its independence it can be said that the economy of Latvia has lived through difficult development phases. We have accomplished essential restructuring processes in all sectors of the national economy. Although agriculture is one of the sectors where restructuring was particularly difficult, we have achieved success in this area as well. The year 2000 was the first year after bank crisis when the level of agricultural production registered a 3.3 percent increase. Until this turning point, annual decline of agricultural production levels was in the seven percent range. On the current development stage, the major objective of Latvia's agricultural policy is to transform its agriculture into a developed sector capable of producing sufficient amounts of quality food. Firstly, to ensure sufficient food supplies to Latvia consumers and secondly, to become integrated in European and world markets, competing with producers form other countries in terms of quality and production costs.

To assist agricultural producers, Latvia's Law on Agriculture provides that support to agricultural producers shall comprise 3 percent of the state budget expenditures. In the year 2001, under the national a programme of subsidies LVL 21 million was spent on agriculture, the major part of this sum being allocated to the development of crop farming and animal husbandry, as well as to technical upgrading. In general, the amount of the national support to agriculture has stabilized and is increasing every year. If in the mid 1990s it amounted to eight million then at the beginning of in this century it has been increased 2.5 times. Recently, the SAPARD program was launched in Latvia to also contribute to the support offered to agricultural producers.

Despite the growing State support to agriculture, agricultural producers in Latvia are not able to ensure sufficiency in agricultural products. One of the most successful sectors is cereal production which has almost achieved self-sufficiency gains. Concerning the production of milk and dairy products, Latvia is almost 100 percent self-sufficient. The animal sector, however, cannot satisfy domestic market demands. Latvia produces half of the amount of meat it consumes. But the gap is covered by imports of foodstuffs. So, we can say that the Latvian population is sufficiently provided with food to be able to satisfy its nutritional needs.

But there is another factor, influencing Latvia's food self-sufficiency, and that is the purchasing power of its population. We cannot speak about famine in the literal sense of this word. We rather deal with notions of balanced and wholesome food. Household food expenditures in 1999 amounted to 39 percent for middle-income families, as opposed to 66 percent for the poorer strata, and 20 percent for the higher-income households. The contents of the "food basket" also differ greatly according to purchasing power. Prosperous people consume more relatively expensive products such as meat and meat products, dairy products as well as fruit, vegetables and berries. This societal group generally has a balanced and wholesome diet. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the other group. Our objective is to ensure that all segments of the Latvian population have access to balanced and wholesome food.

In this context, we cannot omit mentioning participation and support by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. At the end of 2000, there was a seminar held in Latvia "Horizon 2010" where the previous development of agriculture was analyzed, and its future horizons were discussed. Participants listened to interesting reports, participated into vivid discussions and reached significant conclusions at the end. Here I would like to mention only one of them: the elaboration of an agricultural development strategy should guarantee farmer organization involvement. This recommendation complies with the Rome Declaration provisions, and the commitments of the Plan of Action. Today I can declare that Cooperation Council of Farmers' Organization, representing more than 35 member organizations, is successfully operating in Latvia. This Cooperation Council participates in the elaboration and implementation of agricultural policy, in Latvia's negotiations with the European Union on its accession as well as that of other States, and expresses its opinion on the targeted distribution of national foreign aid.

In conclusion, I would like to assure that Latvia will do everything in its power to fulfil the commitments laid down in the Rome Declaration and the Plan of Action.

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