8 March 2017
Egypt – Diplomatic Club meeting
It is a great honour and pleasure to be in Egypt.
I am grateful to His Excellency President Abdel Fattah Sisi, and the Egyptian people, for the wonderful hospitality.
Egypt is very special to FAO. It is one of our founding members.
It is also special because of the exceptional history of this country and region, a cradle of human civilization and a birthplace of agriculture.
Once here, you can truly feel the close relationship between civilization and agriculture, celebrated in numerous inscriptions and paintings sealed forever on historical monuments.
Egyptians know that food and agriculture are fundamental elements for development.
FAO has been taking action to fully explore the potential of food and agriculture in helping countries to implement Agenda 2030 and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
To eradicate hunger and extreme poverty, we have to face diverse and increasing challenges, such as water scarcity, climate change, conflicts and protracted crises.
Nowhere are these trends more linked than here in the Near East and North Africa Region, one of the most arid regions in the world, and one which hosts the largest humanitarian crises of our time.
As you know very well, this Region counts on 10 times less water available per capita than the world average.
And competition between water-usage sectors will only intensify. This includes agriculture, energy, industrial production and household needs.
Millions of poor rural families, for instance, suffer from a lack of access to safe water for their needs, especially drinking water.
According to the World Health Organization, 663 million people still lack improved drinking water sources. And an important part of them live in rural areas.
This situation seriously affects food security and goes against the human right to adequate food.
And this may worsen, considering the impacts of climate change. It means less availability of surface water, more variability of rains, depletion of ground water, and more frequent episodes of droughts and floods.
A recent FAO study in the region shows that climate change may induce a decline in yields of 27% for irrigated agriculture, and 55% for the rain fed agriculture by the end of the century.
Furthermore, particularly for the irrigated wheat in Egypt, the increased temperature may induce a shortening of the growing seasons by 18 days.
The rising sea level in the Nile Delta is exposing Egypt to the danger of losing substantial parts of the most productive agriculture land due to salinization.
Overall, the cumulative impact of water scarcity and climate change threatens to hamper economic growth, as well as exacerbate poverty, employment and migration problems, undermining peace and stability.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This massive challenge requires an urgent and massive response.
Business as usual is no longer an option.
We need to transform and adapt our food systems, to make them more efficient, more sustainable and more inclusive.
We need to promote agriculture production systems that consume less water and are more resilient to climate change impacts.
Farming accounts for around 70% of the fresh water usage in the world today, and also contributes heavily to water pollution due to pesticides and chemicals.
In this region, annual use of renewable water resources is over 98%, and agriculture accounts for 86% of the total.
So we have to promote ways for agriculture to use less water, and use it more efficiently.
This is one of the main objectives of FAO’s Regional Initiative on Water Scarcity.
The initiative has gained momentum with its endorsement by the League of Arab States and the support of some donors.
And it is already producing results in several countries.
It is, for instance, supporting the decentralization of ground water governance in Yemen and in Morocco, water harvesting in Jordan, the introduction of solar pumping in Egypt, water accounting and drought preparedness in Lebanon and Tunisia.
FAO’s main goal in the region is to support the development and implementation of policies and programmes for the sustainable use of water in agriculture, and achieve food security for all.
This agriculture water reform agenda also needs to look seriously into the choice of crops and the patterns of consumption.
Urgent actions are particularly needed to cut food losses and waste, which are estimated at more than 30% of food production.
In the specific case of wheat, for example, we may be wasting between 300 and 400 litres of water for each kilo of grain produced.
Another important aspect is to build the resilience of smallholders and family farmers so they can prepare for and adapt to climate change.
This will require a mix of social protection interventions, investments and transfer of technology.
Egypt and FAO have a strong and longstanding partnership.
FAO has supported Egypt in all its agriculture development strategies for the last decades, including the Sustainable Agriculture Development Strategy 2030.
I wish to reaffirm FAO’s commitment to this partnership, as I expressed this morning to His Excellency President Abdel Fattah Sisi.
FAO will continue to support the Egyptian Government to promote sustainable agriculture, enhance food security, reduce rural poverty and provide opportunities for youth employment.
This includes technical assistance for the implementation and monitoring of the 1.5 Million Feddan Project.
This also includes sustainable groundwater management; aquaculture; the use of renewable energy in agriculture; and the application of new technologies in irrigation.
FAO will also support the Government of Egypt in its efforts to organize an Agriculture Investment Forum before the end of this year.
I wish to conclude by stressing that only by working together, and by promoting international cooperation, we will be able to overcome the extraordinary challenges facing humanity in our time.
Thank you very much for your attention.