Social protection, peace-building, rural development key to hunger eradication say Colombian and Mexican Presidents

Leaders address closing session of FAO Conference

13 June 2015, Rome - Empowering family farmers, establishing safety nets to help those most in need escape poverty traps, and ensuring peace and inclusive economic growth in rural areas must be core elements in efforts to eradicate hunger once and for all, the presidents of Colombia and Mexico asserted in speeches made here today.

The two leaders addressed the closing session of FAO's governing Conference after attending an EU-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit in Brussels and visiting the 2015 World Expo in Milan.

Mexico: A crusade against hunger

"I am convinced that, yes, it is possible to reduce extreme poverty and malnutrition in an accelerated, significant, and sustainable way," said President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, describing progress made under the "National Crusade against Hunger" spearheaded by his administration. His presence marked the first visit by a Mexican president to FAO in 40 years.

An ambitious program that combines a range of social protection activities with efforts to empower family farmers, the Crusade has over the past two and a half years already scored significant results, the President said.

Today some 4.3 million Mexicans receive some sort of support under the initiative. This includes meals provided to over 430,000 children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, senior citizens and people with special needs via a network of 4,000 community kitchens.

Peña Nieto said three elements were critical in making rapid progress possible: putting hunger at the top of the political agenda, throwing sufficient resources behind concrete plans of action, and clearly targeting assistance to those who will benefit from it the most.

Ensuring access to credit, irrigation services and technical support are key elements in sparking what he dubbed "a true revolution in the countryside, focused on small-scale producers and family farmers, and supporting their participation in local and regional markets."

Simply providing people with nutritious food is not enough; they must be given opportunities to build better lives for themselves, he added.

During introductory remarks, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva praised the President for having made clear his "total commitment" to food and nutrition security from his first day in office.

Colombian leader highlights need for peace, inclusive rural development

In his first ever visit to FAO, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia said "peace must begin in the countryside," highlighting his country's vast potential to produce food and the critical role that family farmers must play in unlocking that potential.

"The end of the armed conflict in Colombia represents an opportunity - for the Colombian countryside, and for global food security," Santos said, underscoring the "fundamental" role that FAO can play in supporting rural development in his country.

The President said his government is actively working to secure an end to the conflict in Colombia, which affects mainly rural areas, so that the country can realize its agricultural potential and occupy a "determinant role in feeding the planet."

This includes the ongoing implementation of a strategy for making Colombian agriculture more competitive, involving special lines of credit targeting the expansion of production chains, the provision of technical assistance, and boosting agricultural research.

Colombia has a vast "unexplored agricultural frontier," Santos said – 22 million hectares of cultivatable land, of which only 5 million hectares are being utilized.

The President also described how his country is working to reduce the cultivation of illicit crops used in the drug trade by offering poor farmers with viable alternative crops.

Introducing President Santos, FAO's Director-General pledged the Organization's continued support to promoting sustainable rural development and food security in the country.

Photo: ©FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto
L-R: President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico.