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Press Release 98/08


Addis Ababa, February 19 -- The Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Dr. Jacques Diouf, addressing the 20th FAO Regional Conference for Africa today, called for an increase in irrigated agriculture throughout the continent, which continues to be plagued by serious food deficiencies.

"There can be no food security in Africa without the controlled utilization and conservation of water resources and without intensifying production systems," Dr. Diouf said. "Irrigation is an important element of security in the face of widely fluctuating rainfall. It is also an ingredient of intensification considering that irrigated land is twice as productive as rainfed land."

He said that even small efforts can have a solid payoff, adding: "Experience in the Sahel indicates that rainwater collected from one hectare and used to irrigate another hectare could triple or quadruple production."

In his address, Dr. Diouf warned of the dangers posed by Africa's almost 3 percent annual population growth. "Recent United Nations projections indicate that Africa's population will virtually triple by the year 2050 if the current trend prevails, from 758 million people today to about 2 billion," he noted. "With population growth of this magnitude, food security will continue as an imperative and a challenge: imperative because of the fundamental right of each individual to a wholesome and balanced diet, and challenge because of the need to increase food production in a sustainable manner."

Dr. Diouf said, "Food security should remain the top priority, for this is the world's continent with the highest percentage of malnourished persons. And unless corrective measures are taken, Africa could well find itself with 300 million chronically malnourished by the year 2010.

"Furthermore," he added, "we need to remember that 43 of the 86 low-income food-deficit countries are in Africa, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa where two out of every five persons do not have access to an adequate diet."

Dr. Diouf warned that increased food production should not come at further expenses to the environment, saying, "Regrettably, the present picture is one of accelerated degradation of the natural resources upon which agriculture depends. This applies not only to arable land but also to forests which, in Africa more than in any other continent, have paid and continue to pay a high price for poverty, food insecurity and low level of technology."

According to FAO, some 6 million hectares of African forest were lost between 1990 and 1995, representing annual deforestation of 0.8 percent, against 0.7 percent for the period from 1980 to 1990.

FAO efforts to combat Africa's growing food supply problems include initiatives to increase investment in agriculture. In 1995 and 1996, the FAO Investment Centre prepared 31 investment projects in Africa for a total value of $1.25 billion, including $762 million from external funds. In 1997, 18 projects were approved for a total of $478 million, including $328 million of loans.

FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme implemented a total of 168 new projects in Africa in 1996 and 1997 and the Special Programme for Food Security is operational in 17 African countries and under formulation in another 19 countries.

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





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