Press Releases

    SG/SM/8609
    21 February 2003

    Iraq Crisis Must Not Affect Determination to Carry Out UN's Wider Agenda Says Secretary-General in Rome Address

    NEW YORK, 19 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Governing Council of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, on its twenty-fifth anniversary, in Rome on 19 February:

    We meet at a time of uncertainty and anxiety throughout the world. The possibility of war in Iraq is one that weighs heavily on the entire United Nations family -- including, I am sure, all of us gathered here today. But this crisis should not detract us from our determination to carry out the wider agenda of the United Nations, as we work throughout the world for freedom from fear, freedom from want, and the protection of our planet's resources.

    I am glad, therefore, that we have been brought together today for this twenty-fifth anniversary of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Born out of the severe food shortages and fear of famine in the 1970s, IFAD was created for a purpose that lies at the heart of the mission of the United Nations: to help raise food production as a means to combat hunger and poverty.

    The creation of IFAD represented a new type of partnership -- between OPEC countries and industrialized countries, between developing countries and developed countries -- in which each group provided substantial financing for the institution. It was an early example of a global alliance across geographic or ideological differences, joining together for the shared goal of eradicating poverty and hunger.

    Partnership continues to be the key to IFAD's success. Its programmes are developed in partnership with the host countries as well as civil society and the private sector, from which they receive substantial support. The impact shows how working together with other stakeholders can greatly enhance the effectiveness of international organizations.

    With its specific focus on rural areas, IFAD's contribution to reducing poverty and hunger is clear. IFAD's community-level programmes respond to the needs identified by the rural poor themselves. They help smallholders, poor herders, the landless and -- above all -- rural women access the tools that they need to lead the fight against poverty and hunger.

    That mission goes beyond alleviating short-term food crises. We must keep tackling the underlying factors that allow vulnerability to persist and famines to recur. That means pursuing structural change in rural areas to empower the rural poor and increase their resilience. It means ensuring that investments for social progress are matched by investments and policies that increase rural productivity.

    It means addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS on rural communities, especially in Africa. Because of AIDS, farming skills are being lost, agricultural development efforts are declining, rural livelihoods are disintegrating, productive capacity to work the land is dropping, and household earnings are shrinking, while the cost of caring for the ill is rising exponentially.

    In times of famine, AIDS is depriving countries of their capacity to resist by weakening those mechanisms that enable populations to fight back -- in particular the coping mechanisms provided by women.

    That means we must combine food assistance and new approaches to farming with treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS. It means developing new agricultural techniques, appropriate to a depleted workforce. It means reversing the decline in official development assistance and other support for rural development and agriculture. I warmly welcome the successful conclusion of the sixth replenishment of IFAD's resources. This is a welcome sign that donor countries are following up on the commitments made at the International Conference on Financing for Development last year.

    World leaders committed themselves in the Millennium Declaration to making the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger an overriding priority. The first marker along this path is the specific target of halving the proportions of people living in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

    We can reach these goals only if we keep our sights on the fact that three-quarters of the world's poor still live in rural areas, drawing their livelihood from agriculture and other rural activities.

    We must address the fact that for them, the rapid march of globalization internationally, and liberalization domestically, currently creates more risks than opportunities. We need to work together to help them reach the quality and standards required, and to ensure that trade policies and intellectual property rights regimes allow poor producers a sustainable position in the new system.

    This will require committed efforts in the new trade round, as well as in broader policy discussions. I am happy to see the United Nations working ever more closely with the World Trade Organization and the Bretton Woods institutions towards that end. And it will require us to work towards a green revolution in Africa's agricultural sector, so that Africa may move towards the self-sufficiency that we have seen achieved elsewhere.

    From Doha to Monterrey to Johannesburg, the intersection of key development priorities with rural development concerns has been recognized. And it will be addressed in even further depth when the United Nations Economic and Social Council meets for its upcoming high-level segment.

    Our challenge is to translate this renewed focus into concrete progress.

    I look forward to close and substantive cooperation among all United Nations entities dealing with rural development. Let me commend IFAD on its ongoing effort, under the able leadership of President Lennart Båge, to ensure a focused and agile operation of the Fund.

    I trust that at this twenty-fifth Anniversary session, the Governing Council will identify ways to help us move forward in our shared mission. I wish you every success in your deliberations, and commend you on 25 years of committed partnership with the rural poor.

    * *** *