Enabling poor rural people
to overcome poverty

After months of preparations and an interactive process, involving the collaboration of many diverse stakeholders, the Conference on Hunger and Poverty was held in Brussels on 20-21 November 1995. The focus was on the civil society, its experiences and potential in fighting hunger and poverty. Near to one thousand people welcomed the opportunity to participate in this event which held the promises of being action-oriented and down-to-earth. Together, they examined the possibilities of forming a coalition to increase the ability and the capacity of organizations within the civil society to empower the poor and hungry, provide them with appropriate and meaningful technology, strengthen the coping strategies of vulnerable groups and provide ways and means by which the people and the local communities can reverse the degradation of their natural resource base. The Conference debate was organized into four substantive sessions dedicated to these challenges.

The debate was launched by opening speeches from H.M. Albert II, King of the Belgians; Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Peace Nobel Prize winner; João de Deus Pinheiro, Member of the European Commission and Fawzi H. Al-Sultan, President of IFAD. Policy statements were made by Emma Bonino, Member of the European Commission; Catherine Bertini, Executive Director of WFP; Ismail Serageldin, Vice President of the World Bank; Sartaj Aziz, Yoshio Yatsu, and Maartje van Putten, parliamentarians from Pakistan, Japan, and the European Parliament, respectively, and finally Bo Kjellen, Chairman of the INCD and Professor Michael J. Scoullos, Director MIO-ECSD. Seven case studies were presented by local NGOs as concrete examples of "what has worked" in fighting poverty and improving food security.

H.E. Alpha Oumar Konaré, President of the Republic of Mali, voiced the concerns of developing countries during the closing session of the Conference. Bernard Kouchner from the European Parliament and Réginald Moreels, Secretary of State for Development Cooperation of Belgium, joined the President of Mali in calling for decisiveness and new dynamism to fight hunger and poverty. Manuel Chiriboga, Executive Secretary from ALOP, Costa Rica, expressed the high hopes of NGO communities from the Conference.

The Conference ended with the adoption of a five-point Programme of Action, as a first step towards establishing a Popular Coalition to Eradicate Hunger and Poverty. Unanimous support and immediate announcements of strong commitment to the Programme heralded a good prospect for the success of the emerging Coalition.