PR 96/31 - AFRICAN FOOD DEPENDS ON BETTER MANAGEMENT OF WATER


PR 96/31

INCREASING AFRICAN FOOD PRODUCTION DEPENDS ON BETTER MANAGEMENT OF WATER, SAYS WORLD FOOD SUMMIT PAPER ADDING THAT IN MANY OTHER REGIONS, FOOD PRODUCTION IS AT A HISTORIC HIGH, IN PART DUE TO BETTER WATER MANAGEMENT.

Rome, July 28 -- Closing the gap between food production and consumption in Africa depends on better management of water, says a paper prepared by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for the World Food Summit to be held at FAO Headquarters in November this year.

"The African dilemma", says the paper, can be summarized thus: for three decades African food production has achieved a growth of about 2 percent per year, while population has risen at the rate of 3 percent per year. "If existing opportunities for development are neglected," says the paper, "the future for Africa, for both the human and natural environments, is grim indeed, and the food crisis and its social costs will only grow worse."

The FAO paper notes that in many regions of the world, food production is at a historic high due to the successful application of agronomic technologies including irrigation techniques. For example, in Asia and Latin America, it is in the well-watered and irrigated areas where the biggest production and farm income benefits have been reaped, notes the report, adding that subsidies and other protective measures have spurred agricultural production in the industrialized north. In Africa, however, no comparable gains in per caput agricultural productivity have taken place.

To close the African food gap, it is critical to focus on water and to ensure that this resource, which for too long was considered cheap and plentiful, is recognized as scarce and valuable; to harvest rainfall for crop and fodder use close to where it falls; and to manage all water resources efficiently, says the FAO paper. Other factors include sound government management of the macro-economy so as to promote agricultural investment and profitability, and high-quality technical support within the agricultural sector in the public and private domain.

According to FAO, the general perception that water investments, particularly irrigation investments, are ineffective, inefficient and a threat to the environment, is ill-informed. The FAO report points out that negative effects (such as soil degradation due to salinity and waterlogging) and the possible spread of water borne diseases, cannot be neglected and mitigating measures should be applied as early as possible. Understanding the causes of these negative effects has greatly increased and in most cases corrective measures are possible, the report states.

Water development from simple water harvesting to modern piped irrigation, says the FAO paper, is "destined to make a major contribution to transforming the efficiency and security of the African food supply." Irrigation can yield returns that are higher than those of other agricultural projects and close to those of non-agricultural investments. In addition, irrigation generates employment and in doing so attracts settlers from the more fragile hilly and arid areas that are prone to environmental degradation.

"The without-water-development scenarios for Africa," says the paper, "are extremely dismal and much more problematic than previously recognized." Africa is the driest continent (with the exception of Australia) and it suffers from the most unstable rainfall patterns. Recurrent droughts are endemic, and each year more people are at risk from their effects. Yet there is still only rudimentary understanding of drought processes and impacts. Early warning systems are crude, and effective mitigation measures are rarely, if ever, implemented, states the paper.

The FAO paper argues that the prospects for water harvesting and for small- and large-scale irrigation in Africa need fresh appraisal, especially with the wide array of water control technologies now available. The World Food Summit is the first-ever Head of State or Government gathering on food security. With its theme of "Food for All", the Summit will be held at FAO Headquarters in Rome, November 13-17.

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For further information please contact:
Mr. John Riddle
Tel: (396) 5225-3259 - Fax: (396) 5225-3699/5924
E-mail: john.riddle@fao.org