Yaounde, Cameroon, 21-25 February 2000



Mr Prime Minister,
Mr Chairman of the Regional Conference,
Mr Independent Chairman of the Council,
Distinguished Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is a great pleasure for me to be present among you in this beautiful city of Yaoundé, on the occasion of the 21st FAO Regional Conference for Africa.

Allow me, Mr. Chairman, on behalf of all the participants at this Conference, to thank the highest authorities of the Republic of Cameroon for their warm welcome and hospitality.

(State of food and agriculture in the world)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The world is undergoing a rapid pace of globalisation, and inter-dependence with borders increasingly opened economically.

In 1999, world cereal production, estimated at about 1872 million tonnes, is expected to be about one percent down from 1998, and two percent down from 1997 which was however a bumper year. The only expected increase is for rice, while wheat and other cereal harvests will be lower.

For the first time in four years, projected cereal consumption will exceed production, leading to a drawdown of stocks of 8 million tonnes and leaving 334 million tonnes, which gives a stock-to-utilization ratio of 17.4 percent, which is within the safety margin of 17 to 18 percent.

Not surprisingly, the 1999/2000 marketing season should see an increase of over three percent in world cereal trade, which should amount to 222 million tonnes. Yet, cereal prices on world markets are generally lower than last year, a positive factor for the low-income food-deficit countries.

Another encouraging sign is from the fisheries sector, where a partial recovery in output was achieved in 1999 from the heavy losses incurred the previous year.

However, the most positive factor is the reduction by 40 million of the total number of malnourished people in developing countries between 1990-92 and 1995-97, as indicated in the first FAO report on The State of Food Insecurity in the World. This reduction of about 8 million people per year on average is encouraging, but still far below the figure of 20 million required to achieve the objective of the World Food Summit.

(Emergency situations)

Within a global picture where the number of undernourished people in developing countries is declining, but insufficiently and unevenly, in 1999 a total of 35 countries worldwide faced food emergencies. Whilst in the 1970s and 1980s, food emergencies were mainly the result of natural catastrophes, in more recent years man-made disasters, including war, civil strife and financial and economic crises, have shown an upward trend

In Africa, civil strife and recurrent droughts are the major causes of emergency situations, whilst in Asia millions of people have seen their basic access to food eroded by the decline in their purchasing power brought about by the financial crisis of 1997/1998. In Latin America, most countries are still recovering from the devastation caused by El Niño and Hurricane Mitch in 1998, aggravated in 1999 by a severe cyclone and disastrous flooding in Venezuela. In the Near East, the worst drought in decades seriously reduced food production in several countries in 1999.

FAO, which must first assess the food and agriculture situation and food aid needs, and then report back to the international community, has had to make heavy use of the Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture. The System also collaborates with an extensive network of governmental and non-governmental organizations, in particular WFP and the UNDP.

Emergency situations also require that FAO help revive agricultural production in the framework of consolidated appeals for humanitarian assistance, especially by providing direct assistance to farmers. In 1999, FAO's Special Relief Operations Service intervened with emergency assistance in 67 countries. The resources available for such assistance have steadily increased over the past years, rising from US$ 98 million in 1998 to US$ 186 million in 1999.

FAO is currently implementing 72 emergency projects for a total value of US$ 31 million in 25 African countries. The assistance consists of seed and tool distribution, transboundary diseases and pest control, assistance to artisanal fisheries, livestock restocking and other initiatives helping farmers regain their production capacity and reduce their dependency on food aid.

(Other "crises")

But, the world also faces other "crises" relating to the quality of food products and the risks linked to rapid progress in biotechnology. "Mad cow" disease, dioxins in the food chain, and disagreements over trade in genetically modified organisms are serious causes of concern for governments and public debate.

FAO will have to play a greater role in establishing scientifically-based international standards and in disseminating objective information on potential risks and measures of protection.

To this end, the Commission on Genetic Resources is actively preparing Codes of Conduct. The programmes of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques for Food and Agriculture will be broadened to include the Codex Alimentarius, plant and animal health issues and biotechnology problems. As for questions of ethics, these are being examined by an internal committee supported by a panel of international experts.

(State of food and agriculture in Africa)

Now, let us focus on Africa. During the last three years, a number of African economies in general continued to grow, despite the slowdown in world trade and the re-emergence of civil conflict. First-round effects of the Asian crisis were more muted on the continent than elsewhere, except for South Africa. Food production, small-scale enterprises and intra-African trade are also expanding. This growth stems from government efforts to create investor incentives, better manage public resources and promote the private sector provision of goods and services. Such efforts can only be sustained in an environment of political stability, democratization and decentralization.

In Africa, agriculture still remains the dominant sector and its recovery in 1998 and 1999 was decisive for GDP growth. Good weather and reforms to improve the availability and distribution of modern inputs, and access to credit, contributed towards this result. However, the elimination of subsidies and the reduction of public extension services have negatively affected small agricultural producers. In addition, the efforts of African countries to achieve food self-sufficiency have been hampered by the decline in donor support for rural development projects, and by the reduction of investment in rural social services.

In 1998-99, the rate of growth of agricultural productivity was lower than the rate of population growth, estimated at 3%, thus placing undue pressure on land and other natural resources. Growth in output during this period is therefore due to an expansion of cultivated area.

The rate of growth was about 1 percent for cereals, 5.2 percent for roots and tubers, 5.7 percent for pulses and 4.2 percent for oil crops. Expansion of cultivated area contributed to the tune of 30 percent for cereals, 86.5 percent for roots and tubers, 50.9 percent for pulses and 59.5 percent for oil crops.

For crops vegetables and fruits, the rates of growth of output were 1.2 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively, entirely due to expansion in area because yields declined by 0.5 percent per year for vegetables and 0.6 percent per year for fruits.

Livestock production increased in 1998/99 at an annual 1.1 percent for meat and 1.7 percent for milk.

Low yields therefore persist despite the significant investments that have taken place in research and extension in Africa by donors who have typically contributed about 40 percent of research funds. High returns continue to be recorded on research stations and demonstration plots but the products and technologies developed by international agricultural research centres (IARS) and national agricultural research centres (NARS) have yet to be widely adopted by farmers. A central thrust of FAO's Special Programme for Food Security, which is being implemented in an increasing number of African countries, is to find a lasting solution to this situation.

May I also mention that during the past two years, the African agricultural research community and its partners have decided to do better. Under the auspices of the Special Programme for African Agricultural Research (SPAAR) they have developed a Vision for making agricultural research an engine for poverty alleviation, food security and economic growth. The Vision calls for reforms to empower stakeholders and to make research institutions demand-driven. It emphasizes the need for sustainable funding and for enhanced regional integration so that agricultural research in Africa can be more effective.

Annual commercial food imports have risen rapidly to bridge the gap between domestic food production and demand, with an increase of 15.1 percent for cereals and 6.5 percent for milk products. There is therefore a growing dependency on the outside if we add food aid to these imports.

Although food insecurity has increased, marked progress has been made in some countries. According to the FAO report on The State of Food Insecurity in the World 1999, 22 of the 40 countries that have made significant progress in meeting the World Food Summit target are in Africa. Furthermore, the 5 countries in the world that have registered the largest reductions in malnutrition are in Africa.

Against this background, FAO has reinforced its technical assistance to member countries in areas relating to food security, reduction of poverty and sustainable use of natural resources.

(Achievements of the Organization)

FAO's activities during the 1998/99 have focused in particular on the recommendations of the 20th Regional Conference held in Addis-Ababa in February 1998.

In addition, during the course of the biennium, the Organization has continued to provide technical assistance to member countries of the region in the areas of:

(Other achievements)

With respect to the Emergency Prevention Systems (EMPRES), activities have centred on:

To date, the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) is fully operational in 30 countries and under formulation in 14 others in Africa. Within the SPFS context, the Organization has followed up with implementation of trilateral cooperation involving African countries, other developing countries and FAO under the South-South Cooperation initiative. Countries participating so far include China, Cuba, India, and Vietnam, in addition to two African countries, Egypt and Morocco.

Implementation of the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System (FIVIMS) is being conducted at international and especially national level, with the full cooperation of the UN system partners in the framework on an interagency committee. Initial activities commenced in some eight countries in 1999. The FIVIMS is thus helping design and implement appropriate policies and programmes to combat food insecurity and poverty.

(Agenda of the Regional Conference)

Mr. Prime Minister,
Ladies and Gentlemen

This Twenty-first Regional Conference has set itself the task of examining some of the key issues relating to the fight against food insecurity and vulnerability, and the degradation of natural resources in Africa. You will thus be called upon to examine:


Mr. Prime Minister,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

You have before you an important and inspiring task in the fight against hunger and poverty on the continent. I therefore eagerly await the outcome of your deliberations and wish you every success in your work.