The World Food Summit (WFS) organised by the FAO in November 1996 the 12th international conference under UN auspices since 1990 took place in an atmosphere of widespread scepticism. Many of those attending were suffering conference fatigue, as reflected in the press coverage which focused often on the contrast between the subject matter, hunger, and the 5,000 delegates enjoying the gastronomic and other delights of Rome. The meeting was also overshadowed by yet another humanitarian crisis in the African Great Lakes region. Substantively, two decades after the World Food Conference of 1974, the Summit Declaration on world food security and associated Plan of Action reaffirmed the commitment of the international community to eradicating the hunger and malnutrition affecting around one-fifth of the population of the developing world and specifically to halving the number of undernourished people over a period of 20 years.
This Briefing Paper considers what the Summit specifically achieved and failed to achieve. Such a retrospective examination also provides an opportunity to reflect on the usefulness of the international conference as a focal point in addressing issues of global significance.