5 March 2009


5 March 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the United Nations International School-United Nations Conference “The Food Crisis: A Global Challenge”, in New York, 5 March:

It’s a great pleasure to see you all today.

You have come from around the world.  Who here is from Latin America?   Asia?   Africa?   Europe?  How about North America?

So much enthusiasm!  I wish the diplomats who normally meet here could see your energy this morning!

I also hope they follow your example of focusing on the global food crisis and keeping it at the top of the agenda.

There were already hundreds of millions of hungry people in the world last year, when a chain reaction led food prices to skyrocket.

Suddenly -- almost overnight -- the amount of food that people could buy with the money they earned was cut in half.  The number of hungry people around the world approached an intolerable 1 billion -- every night 1 billion go to bed hungry.

The statistics are startling.  The stories are heartbreaking.

Let me tell you about a mother named Coumba Ba.  She lives in a dry part of eastern Senegal.  Her husband is a herder, but he rarely gets to the market since it is 60 kilometres away from his home.  Food prices are too high there, anyway.  So the family skips meals.  When they are really desperate, they sell a goat.  None of their four children can go to school because they cannot afford it.

We will never end the cycle of poverty for Coumba Ba and her family and others like them unless we improve agriculture and food systems.  Most poor people are farmers, and most farm workers are women.  They are not just a vulnerable population in dire need of help -- they are a major source for food for all of us.  They can produce more -- but they need credit, seeds, fertilizers and rights to land.

Let me also tell you about a widow in Tajikistan named Ms. Zinatbi.  She is taking care of her four children on a little plot of land.  They produce some fruit, but they cannot cultivate all of their soil, because they don’t have the seeds and fertilizers.  And in winter, all too often she has to choose between food and fuel.

Last year, many of the 400 million farmers who produce food from small holdings could not meet local demands.  That is because they didn’t have what they needed to make the most of their land, their animals and their rivers.  Some could not even get their produce to markets.

Finally, let me tell you about Alamako Camara who lives in Upper Guinea.  She has 40 people in her family.  Even though they cultivate crops, the harvest falls short.  All they have to eat every day is a small bucket of cassava, two mangoes and some dry beans.  Sometimes they have no choice but to eat the rice they had stored for the planting season.

I could tell many more such stories.  What they all tell us is that the way the world grows, markets and trades food does not protect the poor.  And this situation is getting worse and worse.  Scientists predict more prolonged droughts and more frequent extreme weather as a result of climate change.  They are warning that the continued warming of our planet will affect everything from the spread of pests to the availability of arable land and water.  Agricultural production could decline.  Southern Africa and parts of Asia, in particular, will have to deal with serious water shortages.

Between global warming and the financial crisis, the number of hungry people is surging.

Last year, I set up a High-Level Task Force to address the food crisis and we agreed on a Framework for Action.  The main idea is to make sure the hungry are fed, and to make sure that farming produces the food people need, close to where they live.

Our Task Force is forging partnerships.  We’re bringing together farmers, community groups, businesses, Governments, the United Nations and development organizations such as CARE, Save the Children and OXFAM.  We’re working together as a movement to tackle hunger now and in the future.

Donors have pledged more assistance.  The international community has held a series of emergency meetings.  But the main work is in communities and countries.  That is where we are using food assistance and giving seeds and fertilizers to farmers.  That is where we are helping communities adapt to climate change and building roads and storage centres so that produce can get to market.

The result has been unprecedented.  Last year saw the largest emergency scale-up against hunger and malnutrition in history.  Famine was avoided.

We worked hard in 2008.  But we need to do even more this year.

Last year, we could not get seeds and fertilizers to all the farmers who needed them in time for planting.  We can’t allow that to happen again this year.

We have to scale up our response so that the Framework for Action is carried out in all countries and communities.

We also need to bear in mind that this is also a matter of human rights.  Food is not just a commodity, and agriculture is not just a business.  Both are central to survival.  Realizing every person’s right to food is a moral and humanitarian imperative.

We are moving on two fronts: delivering immediate food and nutrition assistance, and improving longer-term food production and agricultural development.

We are pushing for a fairer world trade system that works for poor people.

And we are combating climate change.  At the end of this year in Copenhagen, we will bring together all the world’s Governments to negotiate a new, ambitious climate change agreement.  It will focus on reducing emissions while also helping communities around the world to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Together, we are seeing real improvements.

Remember the three people I mentioned when I started my remarks?

Coumba Ba from Senegal had a little girl who was starting to waste away from diarrhoea.  But then she received supplementary feeding.  The fortified blended wheat and rehydration salts brought her back from the brink.  They saved her life.

Alamako Camara’s family in Guinea survived the lean season thanks to food assistance.  The seeds and fertilizer they received are helping them to avoid hunger in the future.

And Ms. Zinatbi’s two daughters attended a school that provided take-home rations.  That made it possible for the family to have both food and heating in winter.

These stories are being multiplied around the world.

This is the way out of the crisis:  tackle the urgent challenges while fixing the underlying problem.

Hunger is a stain on humanity.  The time has come to remove that stain -- forever.

A movement of Governments, farmers, civil society, businesses and individuals is coming together to banish hunger.

This is a people’s movement, with Governments helping to make it happen.

This is the United Nations in action.

I hope you join this movement.  And I hope someday, you will lead it.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.