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100 World leaders coming to table


NOVEMBER 1 – 15, 1996

100 World leaders coming to table

Food Summit to address issues of hunger, food security

By Ashali Varma

And Jack Freeman

ROME—One hundred  heads of government have said they will attend the World Food Summit being held here November 13 through 17, according to Summit officials, who also say they expected work on the document—-including removal of brackets on disputed sections—to be completed before the Summit begins

The Summit, the last global summit meeting scheduled to take place in this century, seeks to renew high-level commitment around  the world to the eradication of hunger and malnutrition  and the achievement of lasting food security so that governments can insure that all of their citizens have access to the food they need to live healthy lives.

According to the Food  and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, sponsor of the Summit, there are more than 800 million people in the developing countries alone  who now face chronic malnutrition.  One-fourth of them are children under the age of 5.  And experts estimate that each year around the globe, as many as 500,000 people starve to death.

At the same time, FAO says, world cereal stocks are at their lowest levels in a quarter-century and food aid to needy areas has declined by almost half in the last three years. 

But grim as the picture is now, it threatens to get much worse  in the century ahead, the FAO says, largely because of anticipated increases in population. The current world population of 5.7 billion people is expected to increase by another 3 billion by the year 2030. As a result of that and  other demographic trends such as urbanization, FAO says, global food production will have to rise dramatically in the decades just ahead.

To boost their production, farmers will have to rely more on irrigation, on the expanded use of fertilizers and other  agricultural chemicals, and on the development of improved and higher-yielding varieties of plants and animals-while at the same time taking precautions to minimize impacts on the global environment and preserve the planet’s biodiversity.

The World Food Summit, which was endorsed unanimously last December by the UN General Assembly, is being held to help meet this need. Twenty-two years ago, governments attending the 1974 World Food Conference proclaimed that “every man, woman and child has the inalienable right to be free from hunger and malnutrition” and set the goal of eradicating hunger and malnutrition “within a decade.” Although the goal has never been reached, FAO officials hope the upcoming World Food Summit will be able to bring new ideas to bear on the world’s food problems and to restore the goal of eradicating hunger to the international priority list.

Its organizers say the Summit is not intended to be a “pledging conference” nor is it expected to create any new financial mechanism or new bureaucracy.

The Summit will be held at FAO Headquarters in Rome, which has been renovated for the purpose with the help of the Italian government.

An NGO Forum (limited to 1,500 participants) is also being held in conjunction with the Summit, along with a Family Farmers Forum. A final meeting of the Committee on Food Security has been scheduled for October 28 through 30 to complete action on the Summit document.

According to Barbara Huddleston, secretary of the committee, there are 179 bracketed sections of the document, but she said she  expected all of the brackets to be removed so that the document will be in final form ready for the heads of government to sign during the Summit. There are no plans for the Summit to include working groups or committees to debate the provisions of the document.

Huddleston said the remaining differences over the document’s language deal chiefly with issues of the right to food, the connection between food security and international trade, and mechanisms for follow up to the Summit.

“The heart of theproblem,” she told The Earth Times, “is increasing food productivity in underdeveloped rural areas.” She said the document deals with the direct measures that are required so that hungry people can be fed, and is geared toward national efforts rather than international. She said each country is expected to develop its own program of action.

Antonio Onorati, chairman of the Italian organizing  committee for the NGOs, told The Earth Times he would prefer to see the document put greater stress on the need for governments to make stronger commitments and take on more responsibility for eliminating hunger. 

He said the NGO statement that will be presented to the Summit’s plenary session will stress the linkage of all international meetings “from Rio to Rome” and will deal with several areas neglected by the Summit document, including the need for guaranteeing access to land and giving priority to the indigenous peoples.

But Onorati said he was impressed with the openness of the regional and other meetings held to prepare the document, and the willingness of FAO to consult with NGOs and accept their input.