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Message of Mr Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, delivered on his behalf by Mr David Harcharik, Deputy Director-General

Mr Chairman,
(Mr President of the Council of Ministers,)
Mr President
Madame Executive Director,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization, I am most pleased to address this opening session of IFAD's twenty-fourth Governing Council meeting. I wish to assure you of the Organization's strong commitment to working closely with IFAD in the fight against hunger and poverty in the world.

I should like to take this opportunity to express, also on behalf of the Director-General, Mr Jacques Diouf, sincere appreciation to President Al Sultan for all he has achieved during his eight years at the helm of the Fund. During these years, collaboration between the three Rome-based agencies has increased, our shared goals have been reinforced, and our joint activities have expanded into several innovative areas. President Al Sultan has clearly demonstrated his personal and energetic commitment to fostering an inventive and efficient partnership between our agencies, as well as with WFP. We at FAO will continue to pursue the vision he has provided to maximize our combined impact, thereby making a real difference in the lives of the hungry and contributing to reducing the number of rural poor in the world. President Al-Sultan, we wish you success and fulfilment in your future activities.

I believe that it is also particularly gratifying that, on the occasion of his relinquishing the presidency of IFAD, one major collaborative activity - the mobilizing of Italian debt-for-development swaps - should now be bearing fruit. FAO is thus very pleased to join the IFAD Governing Council in warmly welcoming His Excellency, President Mubarak of Egypt on the occasion of his addressing this distinguished gathering, as well as on his signing, here in Rome, an important agreement between the Governments of Egypt and Italy. The agreement will, in fact, formalize the release of debt swap funds for priority projects aimed at rural development, poverty alleviation and food security in the context of sustainable resource use. President Al Sultan and his staff have been particularly instrumental in moving this debt-swap initiative forward, and I am also very pleased to note that FAO is currently actively assisting IFAD and the Government of Egypt in formulating the first project to benefit by this arrangement.

It is certain that this initiative provides a beacon for the way forward, but much remains to be done. It is only by reinforcing and focussing our efforts that we can reverse one of the most worrying trends of recent years - the trend of declining national and international investment flows for the development of agriculture and the rural sector. While it is good that poverty reduction is being given increasing importance by the donor community and UN system agencies, 70% of the world's poor, and the vast majority of the more than 800 million people who face the deprivations of hunger and malnutrition daily, live in the rural areas. Our actions must reflect this reality. We must find the means to increase investment in rural areas, especially in the agriculture sector.

In this regard, FAO has noted with concern that, while there has been a steady decline in the number of undernourished people throughout the last decade, this has not been sufficient to meet the goal of the 1996 World Food Summit, which committed governments and international institutions to halve the number of undernourished people by the year 2015. Some governments have clearly responded to the challenge and have undertaken large-scale actions aimed at reducing hunger. At the international level, IFAD has been able, under the leadership of President Al Sultan, to maintain its annual loan and grant commitments at an important and impressive level during the last few years. This has been a notable achievement during a period of increasing international resource constraints, and we again congratulate President Al Sultan and his staff on this achievement.

However, many other international institutions and Governments have been unable to respond at the level required, and many barriers remain in place. Indeed, the widening gap between the high-level commitments made in 1996 and the resources available is all too evident: the figures speak for themselves. We have to reduce the number of undernourished by at least 20 million per year between now and the target date - but the actual rate that we are achieving is only 8 million per year.

Because of this discrepancy, the FAO Council accepted the Director-General's proposal to take advantage of the forthcoming November FAO Conference to review progress made five years after the Summit. We shall be inviting Heads of State and Government to attend in order to reinforce the debate, to focus on the multi-sectoral constraints to implementing the Summit's objectives and to determine the practical and concerted actions needed to overcoming these constraints and achieve the Summit's goals. Both IFAD and WFP are cordially invited to join us in these deliberations.

In the same vein, Mr Chairman, I would like to emphasize the importance we attach to the preparations for the High-Level International Intergovernmental Event on Financing for Development, which is being organized by the United Nations, and will be held in 2002. I believe that our institutions share the view that the mechanisms now in place to ensure adequate funding for achieving the International Development Goals — which include halving the levels of hungry people by the year 2015, mitigating disasters and safeguarding future world food supplies through an adequate supply of Global Public Goods — are far from adequate. It is our hope, therefore, that the high-level event will be an opportunity for a serious examination of innovative financing mechanisms which will enable actions aimed at ensuring a more equitable and stable world, particularly that all humanity can enjoy the right to food - the most basic of human rights.

We are now well into the new Millennium, and we continue to face the challenges of natural disasters, the inequalities of global food distribution and the destruction and suffering resulting from civil strife and human-induced emergencies. Freedom from hunger remains an elusive goal for some 800 million people, and continues to undermine the socio-economic development of many nations.

Distinguished delegates, we at FAO are doing everything we can to meet this challenge and to put all our skills and energies at the disposal of our member countries in their fight to eradicate hunger as the first and most fundamental step in reducing poverty. In this endeavour, we shall continue to strengthen our collaboration with IFAD and your new President.

Mr Chairman,

On behalf of the Director-General, I would like to extend to the Governing Council every good wish for success in its deliberations.

Thanks you, Mr. Chairman.