Economic Development | Speeches

Recommitted political will necessary to coordinate and tackle poverty and food security

Address to the first Plenary Session of the 'World Food Summit: five years later'

Rome, Italy

June 10, 2002

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to address the first plenary meeting of the “World Food Summit; five years later”. The members of my delegation and I are deeply appreciative of the excellent arrangements made by the Government of Italy and the FAO Secretariat to extend us a warm welcome. I congratulate Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the UN, and Mr. Jacques Diouf, Director General of FAO, for their unswerving determination to hold this review meeting despite various obstacles.

Mr. Chairman, this Summit is expected to focus on the constraints of implementing the objectives outlined in the World Food Summit Plan of Action, as well as the means of harnessing resources to achieve its goals. Our presence here as policy makers is to demonstrate the necessary political will and to ensure that the required decisions are taken to influence policy.

The UN Millennium Summit Declaration has reaffirmed the World Food Summit target of halving under-nutrition by 2015 along with halving extreme poverty within the same time frame. This Declaration has reinforced an integrated and coordinated approach to tackle poverty and food insecurity. It calls upon the FAO to play a leading role in this process. We the leaders of the World’s Nations have a responsibility to guide the FAO in the realisation of its responsibilities in order to ensure that the issue of food security remains high on the international agenda.

Mr. Chairman, we have overwhelmingly adopted this morning the Declaration of the Summit.

I fully support the main conclusions of the “High-Level Panel on Resources Mobilization for Food Security and for Agricultural and Rural Development” to explore how donors could more effectively contribute to the efforts of member governments in tackling the problem of hunger and poverty. A shift from “Business as Usual” is required while recognising the need to adjust resource allocations and appraisal criteria, to reflect the reality that reduction of under-nourishment is essential to sustained economic growth.

The core objective of the World Food Summits have been sustainable agricultural development which could ensure world food security. We have talked for many decades of the problems of hunger and starvation and taken many decisions as to the solutions to these problems. Yet, while one half of the world’s population has so much food and nourishment that they end up with diseases relating to overeating, the other half starves to the point of death or extreme undernourishment, which entails their incapacity to live a full life as humans.

At this World Food Summit, I strongly propose that we look the real problems in the face and have the courage and the honesty, to implement the policies that we all know would be the only ones capable of offering a lasting solution to the problem.

Mr. Chairman, the countries most affected by poverty and hunger are those whose economies are traditionally agricultural. Some of these countries produced sufficient food to nourish well their populations, and even produce an excess output for trading against other goods with other states. My country as well as other nations in South Asia possessed agricultural practices of a level of high technological advancement dating back to the pre-Christian era.

The path of advance was halted, only to be diverted towards selective commercial cultivation of alien crops, during colonial rule. The result is that today we starve while the old colonial countries have excess food which is “dumped” in order to maintain high prices for their farmers. They also enjoy various systems of protection which block markets in developed countries for produce from poor countries, while keeping all markets open in the opposite direction through the mechanisms of the WTO and so on.

One wonders whether the free market is supposed to work only one way! This concern is further strengthened by the knowledge that Structural Adjustment Policies proposed by International Financial Institutions gave little importance to food security.

I cannot agree more with the DG FAO that if the billions of dollars utilized for subsidizing farmers in developed countries are diverted to assist food production and income generation in poor countries, the emergence of the billions of starving people and billions more of the poor as consumers, would open up markets for producers all over the world, including farmers of developed nations, who would then require no more subsidies.

The major issues that inhibit agricultural development have been identified some time ago.

Land tenure and access to land and water,
high quality seed,

some amount of mechanisation and access to technology,

as well as market access, are essential requisites for improving agricultural and rural sector growth.

Food security cannot be achieved unless these issues are seriously addressed. The problem of water for agriculture poses the most difficult challenge, while availability of water globally is decreasing at alarming levels, we know that the projected population increase of 3 Billion people in the next half century, will occur in countries that experience water shortages presently. The World Food Summit Plan of Action, has identified water shortage as a serious concern. We have to evolve a comprehensive and extensive plan for resolving the problem of water shortages and droughts, prevailing in many developing countries.

Sri Lanka has implemented several programmes for food security. In the past several decades a policy of free food rations and now a safety net of financial and other assistance to the poor, has been implemented. The construction of a large number of irrigation projects, as well as the maintenance of an extensive irrigation network built in ancient times, over 2000 years ago, have received priority in the development of our economy.

This has resulted in good health and education indices in my country. We have a life expectancy of 73 years, low infant and maternal mortality rates that compare well with developed countries and a high school attendance rate and a literacy rate of 92%.

However, the lack of a comprehensive policy to promote the development of agriculture to meet the challenges of a globalised free market economy, has resulted in locking a large number of small farmers into low productivity and low value activities. Excessive government intervention has inhibited diversification of small farmer agriculture to high value activities, pushing many of them out of agriculture and into insecure, low wage labour. The identified areas for action in Sri Lanka are:

Technology transfer with special emphasis on the supply of quality seed.

Liberate agricultural land from the shackles of archaic regulations.

Streamline irrigation policies with special emphasis on water resource management and irrigation management.

Improved O & M of Irrigation systems.

Improve agricultural research and extension systems.

Improve marketing policy by reducing state interventions and monopolies.

Continue with improvements undertaken to rural infrastructure.

We believe that we could halt the decline in agricultural income through the implementation of an action plan comprising of the above factors. The implementation of this policy is underway at present. I propose that the deliberations of this Summit result in decisions to tackle the challenge of food shortages and related problems in a positive and sustained manner, so as to achieve the targets of halving the number of undernourished by 2015.

Governments cannot alone accomplish the complicated and multi-faceted task of agricultural and rural development in the developing world. The private sector has a crucial role to play. It is heartening to note that the private sector is becoming increasingly aware that it cannot prosper in a world where poverty and hunger would result in social unrest and perhaps crime and political violence. The global coalition against poverty and hunger affords an opportunity to the private sector to demonstrate its seriousness as an effective partner in development.

Let us dedicate ourselves to resolving effectively the modern world’s most shameful and tragic shortcoming – that of famine and hunger.

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I congratulate His Excellency Dr. Jacques Diouf for his determination in undertaking this important review at the highest political level. I also appeal to all countries to recognise the importance of the FAO Director General’s “Trust Fund Initiative” in raising funds and resources as a catalyst for accelerating food production in the developing countries.

Mr. Chairman, while thanking you, may I conclude with a quotation from Lord Buddha, which is very relevant in today’s world confronted with persistent drought, famine and food insecurity.

Devo Vassatu Kalena,
Sashya Sampatti Hetucha,
Peetho Bhavatu Lokocha,
Raja Bhavatu Dammiko
Meaning :
May rain come on time with
The blessings of Gods,
Let there be bountiful crops,
May the rulers look after
Their citizens well,
May “Good Governance” prevail.

Thank you.