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World Food Summit - Five Years Later - Statement by Lennart Båge President of IFAD - 10 June 2002

Mr Chairman,
Mr Secretary General,
Mr Director General,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have great pleasure in addressing this World Food Summit - Five Years Later, a most important and timely initiative taken by FAO.

At the World Food Summit in 1996, and the Millennium Summit in 2000, world leaders made a truly historic commitment to halve the proportion of the poor and hungry by 2015. This provides an explicit goal and an inspiring vision for all of us.

Unfortunately, the present rate of reduction of poverty and hunger is far below the rate required. We now have the vision but we have not yet found the means, or committed the resources, to achieve the goal world leaders affirmed.

Two weeks ago, I was in Mara, a poor region of Tanzania to visit an IFAD-supported programme. During my visit, Grace, one of the participants in the programme, was eloquent in describing how in the past her family used to suffer from hunger four months every year, during the lean season between harvests. As a result of the programme, this hunger period has been virtually eliminated. But her neighbours outside the programme zone still suffer. The direction is good, but we are still far from the vision of a world without poverty and hunger.

This vision is the driving force for the three United Nations organizations in Rome. FAO, WFP and IFAD with complementary and mutually supportive mandates, are working closely together to provide technical knowledge and policy advice, food assistance and financing for poverty-reduction programmes. During the preparations for the Financing for Development Conference earlier this year, our organizations joined hands to deepen awareness of the central role of rural and agricultural development in achieving the goals of the Millennium Summit.

There is today a growing understanding that the bulk of the 1.2 billion poor, some nine hundred million people, live in rural areas and depend on agriculture and related activities for their livelihood. Yet the rural sector does not receive the attention or resources it deserves. Official development assistance (ODA) to agriculture has fallen by nearly half, between 1988 and 1999. Today, only 8% of ODA goes to agriculture from member countries of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Domestic public expenditure for the rural sector has also declined. The support given to the productive activities of the poor has fallen particularly sharply. Greater resources for health and education are important, but it is also vital to raise rural productivity. Without growing output and incomes in rural areas, especially in the hands of the poor, it will be hard to sustain education and health systems or wipe out poverty and hunger on a sustainable basis.

IFAD has focused on the challenge of helping poor farmers raise their productivity and output. More often than not the farmer is a woman, as Grace in Mara. Our experience across 114 countries has repeatedly shown that whenever offered the opportunity, the poor eagerly grasp the chance to build more productive lives for themselves, their families and their communities.

In the last twenty-five years, the Fund has provided some USD 8 billion to finance poverty programmes with a total cost of over USD 21 billion. These programmes have helped an estimated 250 million poor men and women. Currently our programmes reach an additional 10 million poor people every year. With more resources, we could reach many millions more.

As the Rural Poverty Report 2001 published by IFAD highlighted, organizations of the poor and better access to land and water, technology, supportive institutions and markets are key to sustainable poverty reduction. Such a policy approach has to be underpinned by greater resources for the rural sector. Above all, it requires a new way of looking at the rural poor, as producers, not as objects of charity or subsidy, but as partners in development.

Today we have the knowledge and experience, and the world certainly has the resources, to bring about conditions in which every child can have a life without hunger, every human being a life in dignity. Grace and her family in Mara have been able to work themselves out of hunger. It is our collective responsibility to give the same opportunity to all the millions still trapped in destitution and despair.