Twenty-ninth Session

Rome, 12-16 May 2003



His Excellency Eligio Jáquez, Secretary of State for Agriculture and Representative of His Excellency Hipólito Mejía, President of the Dominican Republic
Mr. Chairperson
Distinguished Delegates and Observers
Ladies and Gentlemen

    I am pleased to welcome you all to Rome and to the 29th session of the Committee on World Food Security – the main forum of the United Nations system for issues related to food security. It is a great pleasure to welcome His Excellency Eligio Jáquez, Secretary of State for Agriculture and Representative of His Excellency Hipólito Mejía, President of the Dominican Republic, who for health reasons was in the end unable to be with us today. We all know the importance that President Mejía and his Government attach to agricultural development at national and international levels and his commitment to ensuring that all the world’s citizens are free from hunger.

    The Committee is meeting for the first time since the World Food Summit: five years later held last June. The distinguished members of the Committee will recall that the Heads of State and Government who attended this major international gathering reaffirmed the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food. They recognized the urgent need to reinforce the efforts of all concerned participants within an international alliance against hunger. They emphasized the need to reverse the declining trend of resources to agriculture in order to achieve the objectives of the 1996 World Food Summit.

    The problem of hunger and poverty remains one of the most pressing and formidable challenges of our time. Apart from causing visible pain and suffering, hunger and poverty also cast a shadow over the future of poor members of society. Extreme hunger is a social shackle which defies every effort of an individual or a society to improve themselves economically and socially:

    When hunger manifests itself on a wide scale, with a significant proportion of the population undernourished, as is the case in many countries, it poses a serious challenge to the very objectives of development and to success in poverty reduction. Hunger and its consequences are not only morally and ethically unacceptable, but also entail a high social and economic cost to the nations concerned. Moreover, the hopelessness and anger that hunger and poverty generate can become a breeding ground for violence and crime.

    This Committee, which is open not only to all Member Nations of FAO but also to all Member States of the United Nations, with its focus on food security, occupies a key place in the fight against hunger and poverty. Indeed, since it came into being after the World Food Conference in 1974, the Committee has made significant contributions. The Committee has played a central role in elaborating key conceptual and practical approaches to overcome food insecurity. Today, there is a more profound understanding of its nature and causes than ever before. The Committee has also made a substantial contribution in creating widespread international awareness of the problem of hunger and bringing it to the forefront of the international agenda.

    As the forum of the United Nations system for issues concerning food security, the Committee reports regularly to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations, and the 1996 World Food Summit charged it with the responsibility of monitoring the implementation of the WFS Plan of Action. In this context, in March 1999, ECOSOC made a specific request that the CFS should submit to it every four years, starting in 1999, a report on progress in the implementation of the WFS Plan of Action. Accordingly, the 25th session of this Committee submitted its first report, through the FAO Council, to ECOSOC. At the current session, the Committee has before it, for its consideration and approval, its second such report (CFS: 2003/LIM/1) for submission to ECOSOC.

    Appropriately, this year, ECOSOC has chosen “Promoting an integrated approach to rural development in developing countries for poverty eradication and sustainable development” as the theme for the high-level segment of its substantive session, to be held in Geneva from 30 June to 2 July 2003.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Despite widespread awareness, progress towards the World Food Summit’s main objective of reducing the number of undernourished people by half by 2015 remains disappointingly slow. I regret to have to point out that the latest FAO estimates, based on data from the years 1998-2000, show that progress in reducing the number of undernourished has virtually come to a halt. The number of people in the world who do not have access to sufficient, nutritious and safe food is now estimated at 840 million, of whom 11 million are in the industrialized countries, 30 million in the countries in transition, and 799 million in the developing countries.

    This latest estimate shows a decrease of only 20 million people in the developing countries, signifying an annual rate of decline of only 2.5 million since 1990-92. This is far below the rate required to attain the goal of the World Food Summit. Each year, the annual reduction in number of undernourished in the developing countries should in fact be 24 million, almost ten times the current rate, otherwise the goal of the Summit will not be achieved until 2150.

    In many cases, the cause of the prevalence of widespread hunger in developing countries is structural in nature: income inequality; lack of access to resources, employment, income, markets; absence of a conducive policy environment, appropriate strategies and effective programmes; and the impact of the debt burden. The result is often slow agricultural and economic growth. On top of such structural problems, disasters – both natural and provoked by humans – affect the performance of numerous countries in their progress towards reducing food insecurity and poverty.

    Disasters exacerbate food insecurity. Apart from the immediate consequences of loss of life, human suffering, and destruction of property, the increasing number and scale of natural and man-made disasters is having long-term adverse social, economic and environmental impacts. Natural disasters can affect all countries, but their long-term consequences are especially severe where they affect people who already suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition.

    Conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa countries resulted in losses of almost US$52 billion in agricultural output between 1970 and 1997, a figure equivalent to 75 percent of all official development assistance received by the conflict-affected countries during the period. Estimated losses in agricultural output for all developing countries averaged US$4.3 billion per year, enough to raise the food intake of 330 million hungry people to minimum required levels.

    Currently, around 39 countries are facing exceptional emergencies, with an estimated 67 million people requiring food aid. In southern Africa alone, severe drought has substantially reduced food production and no fewer than 14 million people have been affected, indicating a significant deterioration in food security compared to the previous year. In eastern Africa, particularly in Eritrea and Ethiopia, more than 13 million people face severe food supply shortages, also on account of drought.

    Generally, poor households suffer most from disasters, not only because they live in marginal areas directly exposed to potential environmental hazards, but also because they have less capacity to cope. When disasters occur, poor households are forced to sell the few assets they may have in order to meet their immediate needs, including food, thus risking becoming even poorer and undernourished over the long-term. This is why quick action is needed in the aftermath of disasters to enable the poor to rebuild their production capacity and become self-reliant. However, we need to address not only the consequences of drought, but also the causes, resolutely engaging in programmes to harness water, source of life for humans, animals and crops.

    Another major social problem which is further worsening the food insecurity situation of the poor is the alarming spread of HIV/AIDS in many countries, especially in Africa. Once largely an urban problem, HIV/AIDS has spread to rural areas in developing countries, devastating thousands of farming communities. The pandemic is no longer a health problem alone, but is having devastating impacts on agricultural production, household food security and rural people's ability to survive.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    The problems impeding the achievement of the WFS objective are daunting but can still be overcome.

    One major hope for achieving the WFS target of reducing the number of undernourished by half, and in the same vein, the target of halving hunger as part of the MDG goals, is the existence of strong solidarity and commitment at international and national levels to tackle the problem of food insecurity and poverty. The World Food Summit in 1996 and the WFS:fyl in 2002 renewed the world’s commitment to halve the number of hungry in the world no later that 2015. The commitment expressed at the UN General Assembly’s Millennium Summit, the International Conference on Financing for Development, and, most recently, the World Summit for Sustainable Development, is also encouraging.

    It is my hope that the international expressions of solidarity and commitment will not remain as mere rhetoric.

    An encouraging factor is the success witnessed in some countries in reducing hunger. China has reduced the number of undernourished by 74 million since 1990-92. Indonesia, Viet Nam, Thailand, Nigeria, Ghana and Peru have also succeeded in reducing significantly the number of undernourished.

    The Government of Brazil has set the goal of eradicating hunger within four years, through the Zero Hunger Programme “Projecto Fome Zero”, targeting the most vulnerable households. President Lula da Silva has said that “Fighting hunger worldwide can only truly happen when hunger becomes a political problem, when starving people start getting policy makers worried about it.” Let me say that this is an example which needs to, and must, be emulated by governments in other countries.

    We do not have an excuse for delaying action; we cannot say that we do not know how to go about tackling hunger and poverty. Off-the-shelf technologies to increase food and agricultural production under different agro-ecological systems are widely available. The WFS Plan of Action has provided the road map for reducing and eventually eradicating hunger. The Anti-Hunger Programme, which is on your Agenda of this session, has put forward practical measures and means to facilitate the implementation of the WFS Plan of Action. It advocates a twin-track approach, combining immediate assistance to the most needy and hungry with longer-term investment in agricultural development, particularly in water control and rural infrastructure. And it shows that financing the additional investment is realistically feasible with appropriate burden sharing between developed and developing countries.

    What is needed most is political commitment, especially at national level, to give the problem the priority it deserves, supported by a vibrant and strong “International Alliance Against Hunger” with the involvement of international organizations, bilateral donors, civil society, NGOs and the private sector.

    Let me also emphasize that the responsibility for eradicating hunger and ensuring the right to food of citizens remains primarily the responsibility of national governments, but it is also important that international assistance and support be provided on the basis of national plans and strategies. International support and assistance have to be conducive to national initiatives and not the other way round. Such a coherent and a co-ordinated approach can indeed accelerate the achievement of the WFS objective of reducing the number of undernourished by half by 2015.

    Thank you for your kind attention.