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A statement by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
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28 November 2014


Euro-Mediterranean Conference on Agriculture


Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by thanking the Government of Italy, and especially Minister Martina, for the invitation to be here.

Here in this region, as in so many other parts of the world, agriculture and migration are related topics.

Migration has always been a key phenomenon in the Mediterranean.

The exchanges between different peoples and customs have helped shape cultures. The exchange still brings energy and spurs development.

This should be a movement embedded in hope.

However, it often hides forced displacement, desperate migration and carries the veil of tragedy.

Overcrowded boats. Shipwrecks. Despair. Desperation to jump the walls of inequality that separate them from Europe, their promised land of opportunities and better lives.

His Holiness, Pope Francis, said it well in his recent speech to the European Parliament: "We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery!"

But the problem is not Mediterranean Sea.

It is rare that someone leaves their lands without being forced to.

To prevent that the Mediterranean becomes the shallow grave of solidarity implies looking at the origins of the tragedy.

Wars, ethnic conflicts and extreme poverty make up the Dantesque lever that pushes thousands of people on to a dark and uncertain trip in the XXI century.

Forced migration is the corollary of fear, despair and hunger.

Reversing this impulse requires actions in different latitudes, with different timeframes, and that range from emergency responses to cooperation for development.

In many cases, the only antidote is sustainable agricultural and rural development that reconciles the generation of income with the preservation of the resources that form the basis of life on earth.

Without this, hundreds of thousands of people are forced to migrate every year. Most of them are youth.

This deprives already impoverished rural areas of its work force and, thus, of its ability to loosen the grip of extreme poverty.

Those that stay behind are children, women and the elderly. A demographic imbalance that puts too heavy a burden on women. And that many times becomes a clog in the wheel of development.

The status quo is unacceptable. And yet it is worsening at alarming rates: the number of informal border crossings doubled in recent years. And over 85 percent of them occur through Mediterranean routes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Rural youth are the future of the agriculture sector, particularly in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries.

We need to find alternatives to raise the incentives for the youth to engage in rural activities, such as farming, livestock production, fisheries and aquaculture. In their own communities and countries.

Promoting rural youth employment and agro-entrepreneurship should be at the core of strategies that aim to addressing the root causes of distress of economic and social mobility.

Agricultural, food and rural development must be placed at the core of the regional cooperation agenda.

To make this happen and to make it sustainable, we need to tackle issues such as climate change and the scarcity and degradation of land and water. FAO is working to address these issues.

We are implementing regional initiatives on water scarcity, to develop small-scale agriculture for inclusive development, and to build food security and resilience in the Near East and North Africa region.

We are also working to empower smallholder farmers, and support agri-food trade and regional integration in the Balkan States.

Given the complexity of the tasks at hand, FAO is not working alone.

We are partnering with international and regional financing institutions, with other UN and international agencies, with regional and Mediterranean institutions such as the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), as well as with non-state actors.

I would like to mention three regional mechanisms in which FAO participates that aim to strengthen cooperation among Mediterranean countries.

The Mediterranean Animal Health Network established by FAO and the World Animal Health Organization works with 13 countries to control transboundary animal diseases.

The FAO-CIHEAM network for small ruminants enhances cooperation among scientists, decision-makers and organizations of producers in the Mediterranean countries.

And, finally, the Mediterranean Agricultural Markets Information Network. The Med-Amin brings to the Mediterranean region the experience of the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), whose secretariat is hosted by FAO. It provides better and updated information about prices and stock for the most important commodities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to conclude by reaffirming the importance of investing in rural development in the region, particularly in the Horn of Africa and in the Sahel.

This is true, especially in Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries, where a third of the population lives in a rural environment and where one job out of five is in agriculture.

For youth, in particular, the creation of meaningful and inclusive opportunities in agriculture and agribusinesses will not only impact their lives, but substantially improve livelihoods in their rural communities, the economies and the resilience of their home countries, the region and the world.

And not only that. I am positive that it will also help to regenerate the strength of solidarity in our time.

Doors often close in times of crisis. Solidarity helps us open its locks and work together for inclusive and sustainable development.

You can count on FAO.

Thank you for your attention.