Thirty-first Session

Rome, 23-26 May 2005


Mr. President of the Republic,
Mr. Chairperson
Your Excellency the Minister for Development Cooperation of Belgium
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am pleased to welcome you all to the Thirty first Session of the Committee on World Food Security.

More than eight years have elapsed since Heads of State and Governments representing 186 countries, who gathered at the World Food Summit (WFS) here in Rome in November 1996, solemnly pledged their political will and commitment to eradicate hunger, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their number no later than 2015. This pledge was reiterated at the next gathering for the World Food Summit: five years later in June 2002.

At the Millennium Summit, in September 2002, Heads of State and Government representing more than 155 countries endorsed the objective of the World Food Summit.

The reduction of hunger and the attainment of many other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are inter-related. Levels of child and maternal mortality and low rates of school attendance in developing countries are intimately linked to the prevalence of hunger and under-nourishment. The same applies to environmental sustainability: indeed the overexploitation or misuse of natural resources can jeopardize people’s food security. To a great extent the achievement of most of the MDGs depends critically on progress in improving nutrition and reducing hunger.

How far have we gone forward in tackling hunger and poverty?

Our latest estimates indicate that 852 million people worldwide were undernourished in 2000-2002, comprising 815 million in developing countries, 28 million in the countries in transition and 9 million in the industrialized countries.

It is with great regret that, more than eight years after the WFS, I still have to report that we have not progressed enough towards the WFS objective. In three of the four developing regions, more people were undernourished in 2000-2002 than in 1995-1997. Only Latin America and the Caribbean achieved a modest reduction in the number of hungry people.

The far too slow overall progress nevertheless conceals both positive and negative developments. On the positive side, more than thirty developing countries, with a total population of over 2.2 billion people, have reduced the prevalence of under-nourishment by 25 percent and have made significant progress towards achieving the WFS target. These countries show that rapid progress is possible and thereby give us reason for hope. They tell us that we can do better in reducing hunger and undernourishment.

Also on the positive side, even if we exclude the two large countries China and India, which contributed significantly to the overall progress made during the 1990s, the rest of the developing countries together saw a stabilization in the number of undernourished people during the second half of the last decade - after rising at a rate of almost 7 million per year during the first half of the decade. At the same time, the proportion of undernourished people in the population of these countries declined from 20 percent to 18 percent. It was particularly encouraging to note that the most pronounced change in trends took place in Sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, during the second half of the decade, the rate of increase in the number of undernourished people in the region slowed from 5 million per year to 1 million per year, and the proportion of undernourished fell from 36 percent to 33 percent. If such a trend continues in the region, we may soon begin to see a decline also in the number of undernourished people in the sub-region.

However, while the positive developments give us some reason for optimism, they must not make us forget that a large number of countries have seen no progress and often a worsening of hunger since the WFS base period. While the successful countries show us that we can do better in our fight against hunger, the latter countries – along with the inadequate overall progress - underline that we must do better in the fight against hunger.

Can we continue to live with the present levels of hunger and human misery?

The persistently high levels of undernourishment world-wide not only constitute a morally intolerable situation. They also impose heavy costs.

Hunger and under-nutrition diminish the ability of human beings to learn, to develop their abilities and to work. Many risk remaining in a poverty trap. The latest FAO report on “The State of Food Insecurity in the World, 2004” underlines that under-nourishment and deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals cost more than 5 million children their lives every year; and that every child whose physical and mental development is stunted by chronic hunger stands to lose 5 - 10 percent in lifetime earnings.

We have estimated that every year when hunger persists at current levels it causes deaths and disability that will cost developing countries a loss of potential future productivity with a present discounted value of US $500 billion or more. The prevalence of hunger thus undermines economic and social progress for future generations.

In addition, the hopelessness and anger that hunger and social misery generate constitute a potential breeding ground for violence that can threaten peace and stability in a nation and beyond.

In other words, not only must we do better in our common fight against hunger; we can not afford not to do better. The cost of doing nothing is too high.

More needs to be done to accelerate hunger and poverty reduction.

So far, overall progress in reducing chronic hunger has fallen short of the pace required to cut the number of hungry people by half by 2015. The situation calls for more focussed and concerted action.

FAO continues to stress that eradicating hunger and poverty is the responsibility first and foremost of national governments. The experience of the thirty countries which have provided proof that rapid progress is possible also provides useful lessons on how such progress can be achieved. A common characteristic of most of these countries is a rate of agricultural growth significantly above the average for the developing countries. In these countries, agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased at an average annual rate of 3.2 percent over the 1990s, compared to an average of 2.2 percent for the developing countries as a whole. This underlines the importance, in the developing countries, of giving absolute priority to sustainable agricultural growth and on focussing on raising the productivity of small farmers in order to eradicate poverty and hunger. Agriculture and related rural sectors form the backbone of most developing countries and are the main source of livelihood of many of the poor.

Also, ensuring basic democratic and human rights, good governance, and people's participation in the political, social and economic spheres are essential conditions for political stability and for implementing effective strategies to eradicate poverty and food insecurity. Indeed, already the WFS emphasized that the prevalence of basic democratic rights and good governance, is an indispensable precondition for durable peace to exist, without which efforts to eradicate poverty and food insecurity will not be successful.

Unfortunately, the number of food emergencies caused by conflicts and natural disasters have been rising over the past two decades. Their number has increased from an average of 15 per year during the 1980s to more than 30 per year since the turn of the millennium. By the end of 2004, there were 35 countries requiring emergency food assistance as a consequence of food supply crises arising from conflicts, droughts, economic crises or from a combination of these factors.

The experience of several countries in Africa show that war and civil conflicts are major causes, not only of short-term food emergencies, but also of widespread chronic hunger. Countries that have recently emerged from conflicts figure prominently among those that have attained significant progress in reducing hunger in recent years. There is no doubt that peace is indispensable for long–term development and food security.

The incidence of adverse weather conditions such as drought or other forms of natural disasters has also been devastating for both immediate and long-term food security. The tsunami disaster in December 2004, which affected several countries surrounding the Indian Ocean, had enormous costs in terms of lives lost, human suffering and devastation of property and infrastructure. In this context, I think it is appropriate to call the attention of distinguished delegates to the significance of the WFS recommendation of strengthening national early warning systems and disaster management strategies so as to minimize the impact of natural disasters.

While the main responsibility for addressing poverty and food insecurity in the developing countries remains with the countries themselves, their efforts can only be fruitful within a favourable international environment. Indeed, at the national and international level we have seen expressions of solidarity and strong commitment to address the problem of food insecurity and poverty. Unfortunately, there is still a notable gap between commitments and action. The urgent measures that need to be taken at the international level include: creation of a fair and equitable international trading environment, reduction and cancellation of the debt burden of the poorest developing countries; and enhancing international development assistance in conformity with relevant international commitments and reversing the negative trend of resource allocation to the agriculture sector to ensure, in particular, an adequate investement in water control and rural infrastructure.


Mr. Chairperson,

As we approach the mid-term review of progress towards the WFS goal, I wish to stress that this Committee has the important role of searching for innovative measures to close the wide gap between the commitments made to reduce poverty and hunger and the actions actually taken , at national, regional and international levels. We need to implement the commitments and thus ensure that the goals set by the WFS and the Millennium Summit are attained by 2015.

            Thank you for your attention.