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A statement by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
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31 October 2013

Joint World Bank-Government of Senegal-CILLS

High Level Forum “Beating the Odds, building resilience in the
Sahel: Pastoralism in the 21st Century”


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honor to be in Dakar. I want to thank the people and the Government of Senegal for their hospitality.

Building resilience is central to development. However, we sometimes neglect that aspect, only to be reminded by tragedies such as the drought in the Sahel in 2012.

Last year, the lean season came earlier than usual. Poor families were forced to sell their cereal stocks to pay their debts. They are now obliged to buy food at the market when prices are high.

According to our latest estimates, about 11 million people in the Sahel are still severely food insecure, and over 1.4 million children under five are at risk of severe malnutrition.

The good rainfall in August and September this year 2013 was a relief. But they also caused floods and negatively affected livelihoods, in countries such as Benin, the Niger and Nigeria.

As we can see, water is often a problem in the Sahel, whether too much or too little. And the poorest and vulnerable are the most affected.

What can we do to avoid this? How can we make sure that next time a drought or a flood hits the Sahel, it will not once again translate into hunger and loss of lives?

The key lies in building resilience, the theme for this conference.

At FAO, we have adopted a comprehensive approach to build resilience, acting in a preventive way.

This includes better preparedness and early warning, as well as plans to enable faster and more effective responses to disasters.

But more than anything else, our approach aims to equip families with the capacity to adapt, respond and recover.

Resilient farming communities means better harvest from healthy soils, and better integration of agriculture and livestock, but also policies and better pro-active preparedness against drought and floods.

It means access to basic services, stronger local institutions, livelihood diversification for better nutrition and incomes.

Investments in water harvesting and small water storage have a tremendous impact on rural families. They provide water access to communities for multiple purposes.

Let me highlight the particular benefits for women and girls who usually travel hours to fetch water and for children, since safe drinkable water improves their nutrition.

Around the cities, growing urban markets represent an opportunity for farmers but they need financial support, better distribution systems, and better land and water security.

Flexible irrigation systems that gives farmers better control on water can significantly enhance their incomes.

The Sahel Region’s agriculture, livestock and fisheries potential, if properly mobilized, can easily go beyond the local sales and serve regional and international markets.

In doing all these, we must pay attention to the needs and livelihoods of local populations, in particular those of pastoral and agro-pastoral communities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To build resilience among rural communities in the Sahel, FAO is working on agricultural development and planning investments. We partner with countries, donors and financing institutions to bring more and better water control and management in the rural areas.

Our ‘Water and food security initiative’, financed by Spain, for instance, focuses on improved water management solutions for small scale agriculture in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Senegal.

In all the Sahelian countries, we help designing investment projects in collaboration with the World Bank, IFAD, the West African Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the International Development Agency, with a budget of several hundreds of millions dollars.

They all focus on more effective, sustainable and integrated management of water resources for agricultural productivity and rural development.

We also work on emergency response to crises in the Sahel.

FAO has been one of the major players in supporting member countries to evaluate drought impacts and assess food needs, to mobilize assistance aid and to implement emergency projects aimed at fighting hunger, rehabilitating the production base and helping populations to recover their food production capacities.

Currently FAO’s most important emergency programme is in Somalia. More than half of its projects are directly related to water management and drought issues.

And in the Horn of Africa, excluding Somalia, there are over 30 projects for a total budget of over US$ 70 million on water scarcity, drought and water management, supported by several donors.

About 90% of FAO’s on-going projects in the Horn of Africa are on water scarcity and water management.

More recently, in response to the Sahel crisis of 2011-12, FAO developed a strategic framework for urgent action to support resilience of vulnerable populations in the countries of the region.

Finally, we work on capacity development at all levels, helping countries in the Sahel:

First,strengthen their capacity to decide, to invest and to manage their limited resources, and

Second, empowering farmers and local institutions by giving them the tools and knowledge that they need to build more resilient communities.

At FAO we are convinced that partnership and advocacy are key to success.

Earlier this month, I headed a FAO delegation to the Budapest Water Summit and made a plea for a more inclusive way of addressing the world’s pressing water challenges.

I stressed the importance of building resilience of agricultural systems, in response to climate variability and change, that leads to more frequent and intense extreme events, devastating livelihoods and local economies.

Besides the collaborations I have just mentioned, we contribute actively to the works of the Global Alliance for Resilience Initiative for the Sahel and West Africa (AGIR), which we have supported since its creation in December 2012.

I would also like to stress our excellent collaboration with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), and the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS).

Ladies and gentlemen,

As we are heading towards a long day of discussions, I would like to encourage everyone to be creative and open-minded.

I would also like that this forum could achieve a compromise to protect vulnerable communities in the Sahel from new tragedies.

We have the tools to transform them into stronger and resilient communities, and we cannot wait anymore for the next drought or the next flood to start acting. Together, I am sure that we can make this happen.

Thank you for your attention.