The Holy See
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Tuesday, 25 July 2000


Mr Chairman,
Mr Director General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. In addressing this 22nd FAO Regional Conference for Europe, I wish first of all to express thanks for the invitation extended to the Holy See. It, by its presence, wishes to confirm here the interest which it takes in all the FAO's initiatives, including those prepared and implemented at regional level. Participation in the different Regional Conferences, in fact, permits the Holy See not only to know more directly the various agricultural and food realities, but also to encourage the FAO in the fulfilment of its responsibilities aimed at the fundamental objectives of liberating humanity from hunger. Do not Christians ask the Father of Mercies to give each one their daily bread, and this even before imploring reconciliation with God and their brothers, according to the version of the "Our Father". We recall it here, with respect for the belief or non-belief of all, in this Jubilee Year. In fact, 2000 years have passed since the birth of the "Prince of Peace", the symbol "of the aspiration for peace common to all the peoples of the world" (Res. 53/27 of the UN General Assembly of 18 November 1998. Doc A/RES/53/27).

To you, Mr Minister for Agriculture of Portugal, the warmest congratulations of the Holy See's Delegation; on your election as Chairman of this Conference, accompanied by its thanks for the hospitality which your Government is extending to our meeting. "Muito obrigado!".

I should also like to avail of the opportunity to renew to the Director General, Mr Jacques Diouf, the expression of our respectful and sincere support in his responsibilities, and confirm the Holy See's attention to his efforts aimed at an ever greater effectiveness in the activities of the FAO, also through a real decentralisation of its structure and therefore of its action. We hope, indeed, that in this delicate task he can continue to receive the support, including financial support, of all those who compose the Organisation, and the constant generous contribution of the member States.

2. The Holy See's Delegation, with relation to the principal points on the Agenda, desires to offer here its own contribution of ideas, in a perspective which is certainly different to that of the countries of the European Region the Holy See as an international juridical personality, is not European, or at least is as much as it is American, Asian and African but which is motivated exclusively by the desire to render a common service to the FAO as a whole, and to the member States. It wishes in this way to testify to its constructive interest in the cause of man, its attention to its fundamental needs, beginning with the primary right to nourishment. A right which tends instead to be forgotten, and even to be violated, also in a geopolitical context such as the European one, from which, overall, the spectre of hunger and of malnutrition would appear to be remote.

The necessity which seems to us to have emerged from the preparation of this Conference is that of giving to the FAO's activities in Europe a more consistent motivation, that is, which does not stop at the technical data, but is able to reinvigorate them. This is the prospect given also by recent specialised meetings and reunions, which seem to manifest the essential necessity that international action in the agricultural and food sector, in a context such as the European one, be reinforced and above all be re-thought in the light of the real "imbalances" which the situation presents. In fact, becoming more serious it seems to us are the situations of environmental degradation (which for the world of agriculture concern especially the sectors of the forests and of water), or a fear for the health of consumers, and therefore for the eco-compatibility of the agricultural products. In fact, what also seems evident to us is the "political" instability which regards a consistent part of Europe, even to the extent of effective situations of underdevelopment and poverty, vehicles of hunger and malnutrition, which affect a part of the populations of those countries with economies in transition, which frequently struggle to save agricultural activity from a marginal role. This clearly lowers the levels of food security. In the face of these challenges, it becomes always more necessary to look to the future, to understand what can be the role of the FAO in the coming years in this region. A role certainly which will remain linked to the choices of this Conference and strongly conditioned by the modalities of the implementation of the World Food Summit of November 1996, because it concerns problems both external and internal to the Organisation.

In this sense I should like to recall the exhortation which, inaugurating the Summit, John Paul II addressed to the Heads of State and Government who were present:  "Il est souhaitable que vos reflexions inspirent aussi des mesures concrètes qui constituent des moyens de lutter contre l'insecurité alimentaire dont sont victimes trop de nos frères en humanité, car, sur le plan mondial rien ne changera si les responsables des nations ne prennent pas en compte les engagements inscrits dans votre plan d'action, pour réaliser des politiques economiques et alimentaires fondées non seulement sur le profit mais aussi sur le partage solidaire".

3. Among the external problems which have a reflex on the FAO's activity, our attention is immediately drawn to the first indications and the data on the actual agricultural production of the European Region, which, if taken globally, appear to be even superior to the demand for food (and therefore in line with the levels of food security), but in the already vulnerable areas could lead to an increase in crisis situations. Especially hit are above all the populations with an insufficient level of food security and in particular those who by reason of political crises or instability are homeless or refugees as also those who already in the past decade have been hit by serious shortages of basic cereals.

At the same time, the rhythms of production tend to grow in highly productive areas, leading, as an immediate consequence, to the adoption of agricultural policies directed at an artful reduction of the cultivated land and of the harvests, as also to the use of fixed quotas of production which (if not sufficiently understood by all as resulting from community commitments) create phenomena of insatisfaction and even of protest. As another reflection of these choices, besides, there can be a reduction of the availability of food, on a world level, to be used to face natural disasters or crises created by man.

More generally, strong slow-downs in world economic growth affect, in this recent period, in a decisive manner, some European countries with economies in transition. This especially slows right away the efforts for the implementation of precise strategies for economic development and social progress. Such countries find themselves in effect deprived of the benefits of a favourable world economic picture, and at the same time they lack the means internally to satisfy the essential need of their own populations, as also to well orientate the flow of investments resulting from adequate, but organic, international cooperation. And it is precisely the food sector that is sacrificed, with a reduction of the already scarce nutritional regimes and a tendency towards a lowering of the accepted minimum levels of food security.

4. Another question which directly interests the FAO's activity in the Region is linked to the sector of international commerce, and in particular to the commercialisation of agro-alimentary products. If in recent years hopes were raised by the impulse given by the World Trade Organisation aimed at involving the great economic blocs and the emerging countires (also in the decisions regarding the lowering of protectionist barriers) now preoccupation is raised by the picture emerging following the first implementation of the Uruguay Round agreements relating to the agricultural sector. Europe remains aware I believe that an effect of the present international situation in agricultural production has been a generalised increase in prices, with the consequent reduction in the purchasing capacity on the part of the countries which are not importers of food. And this notwithstanding the prospectives opened up with the World Food Summit, aimed at guaranteeing the concept of food security, a balanced relationship between availability of resources and access to the agricultural and food market.

Besides, the European countries, singly and in the community dimensions, cannot forget that any commercial policy relative to agricultural and food products cannot be solved within their own boundaries, but must necessarily look to the Southern Hemisphere. Now this can come about only if partnership forms of cooperation, guided by the principle of solidarity rather than by that of mere efficiency, are continued to be thought of.

5. In that sense, it can be important to apply to the European context the indications which emerged from the Conference on the multifunctional character of agricultural and of the land (Maastricht, September 1999) exactly about the significance of multifunctionality, which cannot be linked only to the levels of productivity and commercialisation as resulted also in the indictions of the new negotiations for agricultural commerce but it must necessarily contain a social profile and I would say a human one as well as environmental and economic ones. To harmonise the agricultural section with the contemporary economic reality (that is, globalisation) means therefore not only to protect the institutional stability also in the face of more general changes in politics and in the economy, both of the single countries and of their forms of supranational organisation, but above all to guarantee the dignity of those who live by agricultural work, while equally respecting its function.

A multifunctionality thus understood as we see it should not neglect to promote family agricultural business, which by its nature can more easily give those guarantees required for agricultural activity which respects the different ecosystems for production aimed at the effective protection of the consumers, and for a full recognition of the rural woman and of her capacity to be part of the decisional processes, and not only the productive ones. These are all themes which are of great interest to us.

6. Besides, multifunctionality is placed in the profile of the genetic resources and of the biotechnologies, whose nature is at the same time linked to the scientific, productive, economic and commercial sector and to ethics. It is an area which directly touches many European countries and which is enriching the already complex activity of the FAO, committed to giving impulse to the sector and to promoting regulation in all that which is within its competence. It is to be hoped that, in order to reach this objective, not only the international norms be fully implemented, but also that there be observed the fundamental principles of justice, among which is that of the general availability of the genetic resources and that of the correct distinction between that which can favour and that which can harm or destroy man's life on the land. Only thus can there be given a notable support to the activity undertaken by the United Nations System in this sector, which would risk otherwise being regulated only by the laws of profit and of individual and group egoism.

7. From these considerations you can see there emerges the need for an FAO that is both efficient and, above all, capable of responding adequately to the demands of the single member States and to the challenges which arise from the present world and European Region conjunctures. This means that the external problems must be compared with those internal to the FAO which need to be faced and resolved in a spirit that can create a sense of cooperation and concrete solidarity.

Thus the Majority of the countires of the European Region are called on to carefully evaluate the questions touching on the FAO's resources which are in evident decline, as a direct consequence of the lack of, or only partial financial support of the major contributing countries. It is a situation which to many seems by now to have become endemic in the life of the Organisation, but which, perhaps for this reason, risks passing unobserved, becoming almost a habit. On the contrary, the effects fall on the programmes, with their drastic reduction even of those considered to be priorities inasmuch as they are linked to the implementation of the World Food Summit and remain the fruit of a willing and generous consensus among the States.

In looking to the future and history is "future's memory" it is not only the future of the FAO, but that of all of humanity, which should be at the centre of our concern and preoccupation.

Ours is in this sense an appeal, an echo of the concern of Pope John Paul II for the cause of man. Through the FAO, in fact, the International Community expresses the desire to cooperate in a delicate and primary sector such as is that of agriculture and food. Let us learn to think that we are on the same boat, that we have a common destiny! Fundamental in this sense seems to be the reflection that to consider agricultural activity to be primary in the economy of a country does not mean a step back in the growth of the economic structure which above all in the European area, but not only here, is linked to the experiences of the so-called "new economy". Rather, we open a window which lets us see agricultural activity as a necessary choice, a response to the demand for food which, in quality and in quantity, tends to increase,

8. A growing involvement of civil society through voluntary activity and the work of the numerous Non-Governmental Organisations, can be important in a global and human vision. Their direct involvement in the realities of hunger, of poverty and of underdevelopment should therefore be considered not only as a possibility of logistical support, but also a source, frequently, of ideal and programmatic inspiration.

To conslude, in this sense I should like to confirm the availability of the Church, in its various sectors and realities, to cooperte in this work of help and of humanisation, which is both demanding and unrenouncible at the same time. In fact, in guaranteeing to every person the possibility of having an adequate and qualitative level of food security, each of us becomes a participant in the great design of Creation, each of us has the opportunity to put values before interests. The evolution of the world and of the history of humanity renders indispensable new forms of solidarity, if we wish to live in true peace, rooted, that is, in justice. Our community, the FAO, should be thus, a community of values, before being so in interests.

Muito Obrigado, Senhor President!