Speech by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt at the opening of the 28th Session of the IFAD Governing Council

Mr. President of the Republic of Uganda,
Mr. President of IFAD,
Honourable guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to speak at the 28th session of the IFAD Governing Council. As Belgian prime minister, it gave me great pleasure to accept your kind invitation. For many years, Belgium has enjoyed a special relationship with IFAD. Some 22 years ago, in 1983, when IFAD was still in its infancy, Belgium was one of the first countries to set up a Third World Survival Fund, which was subsequently renamed the Belgian Survival Fund. Right from the outset, the Belgian Survival Fund worked closely with IFAD. Indeed, this year we are commemorating the 20 th anniversary of the cooperation programme between IFAD and the Belgian Survival Fund launched in 1985. In my opinion, this programme remains a model for how intensely intergovernmental organisations and individual countries can work together on concrete projects.

It was also in 1983 that Belgium's King Baudouin addressed the 7 th session of the IFAD Governing Council here in Rome. That royal address was an opportunity for the King himself not only to announce the creation of 'our' Belgian Survival Fund, but also to underscore the importance of the close links between IFAD and the Survival Fund ahead of the launch of the subsequent cooperation programme in 1985. I am honoured today to be able to look back at the late King Baudouin and to his commitment and dedication to IFAD and to the Survival Fund. Moreover, every Belgian government since 1983 has worked with IFAD to act upon this commitment and dedication in a bid to eradicate hunger in the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

IFAD was the first - and for many years the major - partner organisation to become involved with the Belgian Survival Fund, which received a cash injection of €248 million in 1983 and further funding of €250 million in 1999. Of the €248 million allocated to the original Survival Fund, almost 60% was allocated to IFAD. Over the past 20 years, the Belgian Survival Fund has taken part in 38 joint projects with IFAD, for a total value of over 103 million Euro. To take just an example, Mr. President Museveni, the Belgian Survival Fund contributed to 5 projects in Uganda . And I am very proud to point out that Belgium participates in a significant way to the UWESO project ( Uganda Women's Effort to Save Orphans) which you founded, Madam Museveni, and which you are sponsoring with so much dedication and efficiency.

After all, IFAD and the Survival Fund share the same development philosophy, a similar approach and an intense cooperation between governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental initiatives. I am thinking here of our integrated programmes for food security and integrated rural development, the complementary nature of soft loans (from IFAD) and donations (from the Belgian Survival Fund), our 'synergies' in the field and the high quality and sustainability of our projects. Long before 'sustainable development' became a buzzword, we were working together to put in place a system of planned sustainability to provide millions of people with a more reliable food supply. Wasn't it our common goals and those of the United Nations' World Food Programme that served as models for the Millennium Development Goals of 2000?

Regrettably, Mr President, the challenge we faced back in 1983 still looms as large as ever. Here, in 1983, King Baudouin spoke of 9 million children dying every year from starvation and 500 million victims of under-nourishment. According to recent figures, 11 million children now die each year and there are over 800 million people in the world who have no idea where their next meal will come from.

Thankfully, in response to this situation, the Millennium Development Goals were formulated in September 2000 - targets which have given us a clearer picture of the world we would like to see in the future, and of the resources we need to mobilise to achieve this goal. As I mentioned, these are goals for which IFAD, FAO, the World Food Programme and the Belgian Survival Fund have been collectively paving the way since the 1980s. The first of the eight Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015 is that of halving the number of people suffering from extreme poverty and starvation. Agricultural development, the very essence of IFAD's mission, is of crucial importance in this respect, as it directly and indirectly supports many of the other Millennium Development goals. For instance, real progress in basic education will never be secured with empty stomachs!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These Millennium Development Goals have the advantage of clarity. They show us the direction to take. For the first time ever we have criteria against which to measure our efforts and progress. The Millennium Development Goals have provided us with a framework within which we can work with many different actors. We have a clearer idea now of what is to be done and what it will take to get there. And by reiterating these goals again and again, we condemn ourselves to making progress on them.

Mr President,

An interim evaluation of these Millennium Development Goals prompts me to highlight three main challenges.

Firstly, a development policy based on the Millennium Development Goals is quite clearly a question of money. Let us not evade that sensitive issue. We - and here I am thinking primarily of the richer countries - must all amass more resources to establish a sustainable development policy. I am probably stating the obvious when I say that this is no easy task. Thirty-five years ago the United Nations called upon countries to allocate of 0.7% of their GDP to development cooperation. This remains a figure which only very few of us have managed to honour, the OECD average being just 0.3% in 2003. Actually, by then only five countries were able to achieve the 0.7% target.

That year Belgium ranked sixth for the first time, averaging 0.61% of GDP. Honesty requires me to point out that this excellent grade was boosted by a one off debt cancellation in favour of the Democratic Republic of Congo. But we are now looking at ways to grant the same treatment to other countries, in order to reach, in a structural way, the 0,7 % norm by 2010. The day we can all cross the 0,7 % barrier, starting with the OECD and the European Union, we will have the financial resources needed to attain our Millennium Development Goals.

Secondly, our fight against world hunger is also a question of organisation and good governance. Let me mention two main factors in this connection. On the one hand, far greater international and intergovernmental cooperation is needed, although I suspect that at today's gathering I am preaching to the converted in this respect. But in implementing our day to day development policy, national factors always outweigh by far international, transnational or supranational requirements. Even within the European Union, which to my mind remains the most intense form of international cooperation in the world, we still have a great deal to achieve in terms of coordinated development cooperation. We must strive to formulate a European development policy that will enable us to increase the output and efficiency of the 25 EU Member States through a better organisation at the institutional level.

On the other hand, our fight against world hunger is a task for governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations. Although NGOs play a very important role when it comes to development, in my opinion their efforts are still insufficiently honoured by governments and intergovernmental bodies. Yet there is no alternative to close cooperation, for the Millennium Development Goals can only be achieved if we all work together and employ new forms of cooperation and consultation.

Thirdly - last, but not least - we will only be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by mounting an offensive on all fronts, by adopting an integrated and multisectoral approach that can combine and shore up all our efforts on the ground. I know that none of you here today need any convincing on that score either. After all, people working in the field are always far more aware than politicians that poverty is a multifaceted problem to which there is no simple remedy. Overcoming poverty is never a question of adopting one individual measure or another, but rather of adopting several measures in unison: rural development and urbanisation, micro-credits and large-scale loans and donations, health and basic education, debt relief, aid and trade. Making sure that our various policies and instruments complement and reinforce each other - and not contradict each other - is an essential facet of good governance. IFAD is well placed to know this and to act accordingly. Nonetheless, there are still many 'outsiders' who remain to be convinced of both the usefulness of integrated sectoral cooperation and the need for it.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We must transform these challenges into concrete actions. This month provides us with an excellent opportunity in that respect. You are most probably aware that President Bush will be visiting Brussels next Monday. One of the central themes of this visit will be the new strategic agenda of Europe and the United States . During those talks in Brussels , it is my firm intention to put the Millennium Development Goals and in particular the poverty in Africa amongst the top priorities of that strategic agenda.

Mr. President,

We are all still recovering from one of the greatest natural disasters for a century, the tsunami that occurred in the last week of 2004, claiming the lives of over 300,000 of the world's poorest people. That tidal wave should serve to remind us just how vulnerable the poorest people are. But in response we also saw an unprecedented man-made wave of international solidarity, which was just as awe-inspiring and, for many people, just as unexpected as the tsunami itself.

It is this second wave that we must bear in mind and use to tackle the roots of poverty and hunger. As long as poverty and hunger are continuing to claim 40 times as many lives each year than a single major tsunami - and here I am referring to the figure of at least 11 million children who die in an 'average' year - we know precisely what we have to do. IFAD is ready for the challenge; its staff and projects prove that every day. The challenge now is to convince the rest of the world how important IFAD's efforts are.

Thank you.