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Sixth U Thant Distinguished Lecture, United Nations University, Tokyo, Japan

By Jimmy Carter

U Thant lecture, Rector Hans J.A. Van Ginkel, Professor Zakrl, other distinguished scholars, dignitaries, and friends:

I want to express my personal thanks to Prime Minister Koizumi and the people of Japan for their hospitality during my visit to Tokyo, and to my partners in the Nippon Foundation: Chairwoman Ayako Sono and President Yohei Sasakawa, who helped to arrange the invitation for me to deliver this lecture.

I have addressed many audiences in Japan, of course, including a town hall question and answer session on live television during the summit meeting of 1979. I remember that my first speech in Japan after leaving the White House was in 1981, to a very small college near Osaka. The audience was very nervous, and I decided to tell a joke to put them at ease. To save time, I chose my briefest one instead of some funnier ones that I knew. When the interpreter finished, I was amazed when the audience roared in laughter.

After my speech was over, I was eager to ask the interpreter, "How did you tell my joke? It was the best response I've ever had."

At first he was very evasive but finally admitted, "I told the audience, 'President Carter told a funny story. Everyone must laugh!'"

It is an honor for me to participate in this distinguished forum, which recognizes the notable accomplishments of the third secretary-general of the United Nations, who suggested the establishment of this special university to explore the role of the United Nations in addressing global problems. It is appropriate to remember U Thant's fervent efforts to preserve world peace during the Cuban missile crisis, a civil war in the Congo, a conflict between India and Pakistan, the Vietnam War, and, not surprisingly, a crisis in the Middle East.

It is interesting to note how intransigent some of those challenges have been, which we are still facing 30 years later in the Congo, Kashmir, the Middle East, and U.S.-Cuba relations. It is reassuring to know, however, that America's greatest concern now about Vietnam is that some of their catfish might reach U.S. consumers.

The subject assigned to me today is "agriculture, development, and human rights in the future of Africa." We cannot forget that Secretary-General U Thant was instrumental in increasing dramatically United Nations activities in the economic and social development of less industrialized countries like his own.

U Thant was especially prescient in recognizing the necessity for all nations to deal with military, economic, and social challenges by working in partnership with one another and not unilaterally. It has become ever more clear that the proper forum for these common efforts is the United Nations. Another U.N. hero, Ralph Bunche, described the institution as exhibiting a "fortunate flexibility" - not merely to preserve peace but also to make change, even radical change, without violence.

Understandably, we are all immersed in a flood of publicity about the world threat of terrorism, the uncertain occupation of Iraq, continuing problems in Afghanistan, and little progress toward peace between Israel and its neighbors.

There are now at least eight nations in the world with nuclear weapons, and during the past few days, Japan, the United States and other countries have been involved in discussions in Beijing to address the possible addition of another. This is a prospect of deep concern to all of us.

These are all serious problems and must be addressed by the international community. One response is that the United States this year will spend almost $400 billion for military purposes, about equal to the defense budgets of all other nations.

These kinds of obvious threats to peace must be addressed forthrightly, the same as would be a case of measles, influenza, or pneumonia, where the symptoms and need for immediate treatment are obvious and cannot be postponed.

Today, I want to discuss another affliction, much more similar to cancer. We may have received the bad news, but it is difficult to acknowledge its seriousness because there is no immediate pain or a rash, and we hope that the diagnosis might be incorrect, or that somehow it may remain in remission for many years. In Oslo last year, I described this affliction as the greatest challenge the world faces in this new millennium.

It is the great and growing chasm between the rich and poor people on earth.

When U Thant was secretary-general, citizens of the 10 wealthiest countries were 30 times richer than those who lived in the 10 poorest ones. Now, the ratio is 75:1, and the separation is increasing every year, not only between nations but also within them. The results of this disparity are root causes of most of the world's unresolved problems, including starvation, illiteracy, environmental degradation, unnecessary illnesses, and violent conflict. The most vivid and tragic proof of this is in sub-Saharan Africa (to which I will refer as Africa).

Tragically, in the industrialized world there is a terrible absence of understanding or concern about those who are enduring lives of despair and hopelessness. Although this is a potentially rewarding burden that we should all be willing to assume, we have not yet made the commitment to share with others an appreciable part of our excessive wealth.

The focus of our concern should be on Africa, where half the people live on less than 70 cents/day. In dealing with its future, we must address a wide range of unmet human needs, obviously including health, education, and economic progress. They are equally important and inseparable. We at The Carter Center are deeply involved in health care in a wide range of diseases. For instance, this year we will provide treatment for 9 million people to prevent river blindness. We have reduced the incidence of Guinea worm by 98 percent, from 3.5 million cases to only 50,000. African people have proven their eagerness and ability to correct their own problems if given the chance.

But today I want to address perhaps the most basic human right of all: for food to eat. Agriculture is also a key to economic progress, because it provides 30 percent to 80 percent of individual nations' gross domestic products and employment for 70 percent of Africa's workers.

Despite the extremely depleted soil nutrients in most of Africa, chemical fertilizer use per hectare is only 1/5 that of Cuba, 1/15 of Brazil, 1/30 of China, and 1/40 of Vietnam.

Fundamental human rights certainly include freedom from hunger. The World Health Organization estimates that malnutrition contributes to 50 percent of the deaths of African children. Child mortality under five years of age is 157/1000, three times what it is in East Asia and 18 times that of the wealthy nations. In the rich countries, obesity is the problem. Despite the tragic impact of aids in Africa, population will continue to outgrow food production.

Upon leaving the White House 22 years ago my wife and I organized The Carter Center, and this nongovernmental organization has been working with the poorest people in about 65 developing nations, 35 of which are in Africa.

One of our tasks has been to analyze the world's conflicts, almost all of which are civil wars, involving the citizens of a single country. It may be interesting to know that there are 110 on our total list, some of which are dormant but still unresolved and threatening. In an average year, 70 of them erupt into violence. Thirty are considered by us to be major wars, in which at least a thousand soldiers have been killed on the battlefield. Tragically, in modern civil disputes without the restraint of so-called Geneva standards, for every soldier killed there are nine civilians who perish, from bombs, missiles, projectiles, land mines, and deliberate starvation or execution.

These civil wars are directly related to poverty, despair, and desperate acts of violence. There is a remarkable fact: among nations where half the people are underfed, more than half of them-56 percent-are now in conflict.

Agriculture is a subject dear to my heart. Except for brief interludes of military and political service, I always have been a farmer, this year still producing timber, cotton, wheat, peanuts, beans, and other crops on land that has been in our family since 1833. The profits are minimal, largely determined by the level of crop subsidies and tariffs imposed on foreign imports, such as heavily subsidized, cheap Canadian lumber.

During the last two years the price of our peanuts has dropped from $625 a ton to $355, a 43 percent reduction. To the benefit of me and other American farmers, however, cotton price supports are still well above world prices - to the detriment of families in Mali, Burkina Faso, and other nations who try to compete with us.

In Europe, America, and Japan the average farm family receives about $20,000 in government price supports, amounting to a total of more than $350 billion annually. OECD subsidies equal the total gross national product of Africa, and are many times greater than the development assistance given to the people there.

As a farmer who is interested in the Third World, I have been blessed by working side-by-side with Dr. Norman Borlaug, who addressed this forum in much more definitive terms last October. Working under the auspices of the Nippon Foundation's SG2000 Program, we have conducted more than 1 million test plots on small family farms in Africa. SG2000 has proven that farmers are eager and competent, and that with good seed, contour rows, conservation tillage, moderate chemical fertilizer, weed control, and some guidance they can triple production. Even in dry areas, modest quantities of water can be conserved and utilized. Our small organization has had notable success, but our experience in Ethiopia and other nations shows the still unmet need for farm storage, adequate transport, stable markets, micro credits, and protection against punitive tariffs and the dumping of cheap, subsidized foreign products.

After only three years under our program, for instance, Ethiopia was able to export surplus grain in 2001. However, early this year I had a call from Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who reported that there was starvation in some of the drought-stricken regions. He requested assistance in transporting Ethiopia's own grain to those communities. I called the director of USAID, who responded that there is no provision for such help, but that surplus American grain would be shipped to Ethiopia. Despite good intentions, this influx of free grain broke what was left of the nation's market and discouraged farmers from producing their own grain in the future. It is interesting to note that USAID has provided $220 million this year in food aid, but only $4 million for agricultural development.

Unfortunately, in addressing African needs there is little cooperation among major donors, including the World Bank, IMF, the United States, Japan and other nations, and private organizations like The Carter Center and the Nippon Foundation. This cacophony of voices exacerbates the problems of eager African leaders, which they have now expressed through new partnerships for African development (NEPAD). Globalization has been a one-way street, bringing few benefits to Africa, and there is little evidence of real concern in rich nations for the plight of the poor.

In fact, bilateral official development assistance (ODA) to Africa has dropped 75 percent since 1988, and support for rural development is now at the lowest point in half a century.

There is reassurance in a growing consensus that the generally accepted goals of society are peace, freedom, the rule of law, human rights, environmental quality, and the alleviation of suffering.

And there is hope for a better future in Africa. In addition to proving that production can be greatly increased, we have helped to introduce quality protein maize, a cereal grain that now provides almost a complete food for humans and farm animals. Japan is contributing the new rice for Africa, with its high yields and a short growing season that permits a double crop each year.

It is also encouraging to know that existing food supplies can support a billion more people than now live on earth. Once again, the problem is sharing wealth and technology.

In addition to the points I have already made, let me add a few final comments. We must combat the false propaganda of some European extremists who condemn the use of genetically modified seeds. Their misleading statements have been extremely damaging to Africa, where some misguided leaders have rejected such imports. There never has been any evidence of a hazard to humans or animals. Many of the most widely used medicines have come from the same process of utilizing genetic diversity. Almost all the seeds planted on my own farm have been genetically modified, to protect the plants from disease, insects and weeds, and to provide higher nutrition. My own yields have increased greatly, while the use of costly toxic pesticides has been almost eliminated. The global community should, of course, insist on continuing reasonable precautions, and on proper labeling.

It is important that each African government maintain its own cadre of agricultural extension workers, to serve side-by-side with others who come from the private sector.

The industrialized nations must continue to reduce farm subsidies and prohibitive tariffs, to encourage agricultural production of poor countries and to benefit consumers in all communities. This is a subject to be discussed among the 146 members of the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun later this month. The United States has shown some modest flexibility, but Japan and Europe have maintained their resistance.

An alternative to subsidy reductions might be a special fund to compensate African and other developing countries for the adverse impact of subsidies on cotton, sugar beets, and other products.

Industrialized nations cannot impose our ideas on African leaders, but it is inevitable that basic standards of democratization, transparency, and competence will be demanded. Perhaps, as a tangible beginning, we could concentrate on a few receptive African nations, to demonstrate the effectiveness of a generous and comprehensive commitment.

Japan has been very helpful in addressing the plight of African people. The upcoming Tokyo international conference on African development (TICAD) later this month, with close linkages to NEPAD, offers a major opportunity for North-South cooperation. This will be the best opportunity in the foreseeable future for resolving the world's greatest challenge: improving the lives of our brothers and sisters in the Third World with increased food production and assuring other human rights.

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