PR 97/64

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Press Release 97/64


Rome, November 11 -- Faced with the problem of adjusting to economic globalization and liberalization of markets, developing countries needed the solidarity of the industrialized world more than ever, Gabonese President Omar Bongo said today.

President Bongo, delivering the F.L.McDougall Lecture at the 29th session of the Conference of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said the changes were making competitors of countries whose resources and capacities were scandalously disproportionate.

The Gabonese leader said it was a paradox that at a time when the world was richer than ever before and when food production had grown so that it was sufficient to feed everyone, one person in five still suffered from hunger and malnutrition. The root cause is poverty, linked to climate problems, overexploitation of the land in some areas, growing urbanization and economic and social inequalities which affected most nations, President Bongo stated.

He emphasized the need to guarantee a minimum supply of food to all people on the planet, because, in his view, development could not be lasting unless it was truly global, respected the environment and, above all, was equitable.

President Bongo said that although Gabon was an oil producing country, it nonetheless suffered problems of food insecurity. There were difficulties with food supply and distribution in urban areas and there was also a need to make agricultural production more competitive.

At present the country was spending 160 million dollars annually to import about 47 percent of its food requirement. The government had therefore launched a programme aimed at eliminating imbalances and stimulating growth in non-oil sectors of the economy. The object was to raise rural living standards, thus helping to stem the exodus to the cities, and to boost agriculture’s contribution to gross domestic product (GDP). At present, while 34 percent of the population were involved in agriculture, they contributed only 4.9 percent of GDP and 0.2 percent of exports.

The government is also taking measures to create a socio-economic climate which would be attractive to both domestic and overseas private investors, he said.

President Bongo warned that many of the targets set in the Rome Declaration issued by last year’s World Food Summit would be meaningless unless it was appreciated that the majority of governments in developing countries did not have the resources to create by themselves and rapidly the economic and social condition needed to achieve food security.

He stressed in particular the problem of “galloping” urbanization. The latest estimates are that by 2030 new city dwellers in Africa would be equivalent to the entire population of the continent today, some 900 million more people to feed. Population growth meant that in order to guarantee a minimum of food security, Africa needed to increase food production by 3.5 percent annually for the next 50 years, an increase of more than 150 percent during this period..

President Bongo also urged the need for peace and the stability of national institutions as a prerequisite for achieving food security. A minimum of peace should be considered, along with a minimum of food security, education and health, as one of the critical factors in ensuring a minimum well-being to populations, the Gabonese leader said.

The McDougall lecture was instituted in 1958 to commemorate the eminent Australian economist Frank McDougall, who was one of the leading figures in the foundation of FAO, having proposed the creation of such an agency to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as early as 1942. The FAO Conference in Rome this week brings together the Organization’s 175 members to debate the current state of food and agriculture and also to approve FAO’s Programme of Work and Budget for 1998-99.


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