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Press Release 98/07


Addis Ababa, February 11 -- Sub-Saharan Africa risks being marginalized from the mainstream world economy because of the failure of many countries in the region to adopt environmentally sustainable agricultural practices to improve productivity and counter the process of natural resource degradation, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

A paper prepared for discussion at this month's FAO Regional Conference in Addis Ababa (February 16-20) calls for urgent action to transform agriculture and rationalize exploitation of forests and other natural resources to halt the process of degradation which has characterized the last three decades.

"Chief among the causes of this unfortunate situation is the serious difficulties policy-makers in most sub-Saharan countries encounter in designing and implementing policies that could promote a widespread gender-sensitive adoption of agricultural technologies and practices that are not only productivity-improving, but also environmentally sustainable. This situation has resulted in a dismally poor performance by the agricultural sector, the leading contributor to growth of most sub-Saharan economies," the paper says.

"Urgent actions are required if the region is to avoid being marginalized from the mainstream of the world economy", it warns.

"While the rapid population growth is the root cause of natural resource degradation in sub-Saharan Africa, policy failure to address the population issue, to technologically transform agriculture on a sustainable basis and to rationalize the exploitation of forest and other natural resources, should be regarded as the main factor in explaining the current high rate of resource-degradation in different agro-ecological zones of sub-Saharan Africa," the paper states.

It calls for sound management and use of natural resources and says there is an urgent need for an environmental information system to provide key information to decision-makers, planners, scientists, engineers and technologists.

The paper also states: "A fundamental requirement for sustainable development is political and social stability. Environmental degradation often reflects the desperate competition for access to resources under unstable social conditions." It adds: "The importance of good governance, a pre-requisite for stable political and social climate, cannot be overemphasized." A stable and appropriate macro-economic environment was also crucial.

The paper calls on governments to opt for forms of taxation such as land, income and consumption taxes "which have been found to be superior to taxes through trade, exchange rate, pricing and marketing policies. These types of taxation should be eliminated as they distort the structure of incentives and lead to a misallocation of resources which entails a significant economic cost in terms of lost output and income."

The paper notes: "It is generally agreed that the level of use of fertilizers and other improved inputs would have to increase from the present low levels if agriculture is to sustainably meet the challenges of increasing population pressure, low-productivity, expansion of agriculture on marginal lands and soil degradation."

The cost of fertilizers could be reduced by scrapping import duties and tariffs, regional cooperation in purchasing, switching to the use of high-nutrient fertilizers, helping importers negotiate better terms and arranging or guaranteeing external loans for them, and improving market information. Increased attention should be given to the possibility of locally producing organic fertilizers or adopting cropping patterns which retain soil moisture and increase soil fertility, the report noted.

The paper urges improvements in market systems to stimulate livestock production, and says that the emphasis in irrigation should be on systems owned and operated by farmers themselves. It calls for proper fisheries management frameworks to be designed as an urgent priority and calls on governments to allocate more funds to promoting development of aquaculture, "as this is an area of inland fisheries which still has scope for sustainable increase in supplies." Tax and other incentives which encourage deforestation should be eliminated and replaced by schemes to encourage planting and reforestation.

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Contact John Riddle at (396) 5705-3259, or for further information.





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