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Summary of proceedings

Country statements and general debate on the food and agriculture situation in Africa
Report of FAO activities in the region 1988-89
Strategies for combatting malnutrition in Africa
The conservation and rehabilitation of African lands: An international scheme

Country statements and general debate on the food and agriculture situation in Africa

20. Country Statements were presented by Delegates from the following 31 countries (in order of presentation): Nigeria, Malawi, Niger, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Mali, Benin, Togo, Mauritania, Cameroon, Zaire, Lesotho, Guinea, Angola, Liberia, Congo, Zambia, Tunisia, Madagascar, Côte d'Ivoire, Sudan, Ethiopia, Algeria, Tanzania, Gabon, Libya, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Rwanda and Morocco. The Country Statement of the Delegation of the Central African Republic was filed with the Regional Conference.

21. The Independent Chairman of the Council of FAO addressed the Conference. Statements were also made by Representatives of the Organization of African Unity, France, the United States of America and Egypt.

22. The Conference expressed concern with the aggravation of hunger, malnutrition and poverty on the Continent. The structural weaknesses of African economies had not made it possible to tackle these problems to date.

23. The vagaries of climate and changes in the environment also had a decisive impact. Drought had become increasingly frequent and devastating desertification had accelerated. The steady decline in soil fertility and the proliferation of plant and animal diseases had further exacerbated the situation on the Continent. In this connection, the Conference expressed its profound concern with the recent appearance of screwworm fly in Libya, which represented a danger to African and European livestock unless effective control measures were taken on an emergency basis. The Conference therefore acknowledged, with appreciation, action taken by Libya to control this scourge. The Conference also acclaimed the measures taken by the Director-General of FAO, including the establishment of a Trust Fund and a Screwworm Emergency Centre for North Africa. The Conference appealed to donor countries to contribute enough funds to this campaign to eradicate the scourge. FAO was also commended for its role in coordinating the locust control campaign and in controlling the major livestock diseases.

24. Steadily increasing population pressure on the land, the consequent expansion of people towards more vulnerable marginal areas and the encroachment of forest resources were the cause of an accelerated degradation of land and plant cover. Rural/Urban population shifts and the aging of the present population remaining on the land had an adverse effect on agricultural production.

25. These difficulties were compounded by an unfavourable international economic climate (low export prices, high import prices, soaring indebtedness, high international interest rates). The Conference therefore underscored the need to take new and meaningful debt relief measures.

26. Other factors hampering economic recovery were the flight of capital and exorbitant debt servicing. At the same time, the Continent needed substantial new resources to obviate the land and water degradation jeopardizing its future. The Conference expressed its satisfaction with the recent improvement in big power political relations, and the relinquishing of confrontation in favour of cooperation and a joint effort toward development. The Conference, however was concerned about a possible retargetting of financial resources to Eastern Europe, to Africa's detriment.

27. The Conference mentioned the potential negative impact of structural adjustment programmes on agricultural production and the rural population. It supported the efforts of the Director-General for increased FAO participation and involvement in the formulation of structural adjustment policies.

28. Population growth made agricultural intensification imperative, and this included intensified use of agricultural inputs and improved and more effective reduction systems.

29. The Conference stressed the need to improve infrastructures (communication and transport networks, storage facilities) and services for support, credit and marketing, and to increase intra-African trade.

30. The Conference welcomed FAO's unflagging support to countries in their efforts to develop their agriculture. Nonetheless, the Conference noted that some Member States had still not settled their regular contributions. The Conference therefore again urged these countries to pay their arrears and settle their regular contribution so as to avoid new cuts in FAO's programmes.

31. The Conference particularly acknowledged the importance of maintaining and reinforcing FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP), which allowed FAO to confront the requirements of Member Nations as well as emergency situations.

32. In the Country Statements many delegations stressed the scope of national efforts in the following areas: rational utilization of natural resources; conservation and rehabilitation of degraded lands; environmental protection; preparation of the Tropical Forestry Action Plan; reforestation; erosion control; protection and conservation of fishery resources; and the role of women in development. The details of these interventions appear in the respective items of the Agenda.

Report of FAO activities in the region 1988-891

1 ARC/90/2

33. The Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa presented the Report on FAO Activities in the Region in 1988-89. He briefly described the general trends of the situation in the Region, especially agricultural and food production, and summarized FAO's activities.

34. He particularly stressed the increasingly uncertain climate, population growth increasing soil degradation, the decline of plant cover, the various natural and other disasters (locust infestations, local droughts, political strife), the persistent decline in the terms of trade, onerous debt-servicing, and the reduced flow of funds to Africa. He reported to the Conference on FAO's reduction of its activities in Africa as a result of the financial crisis due to the non-payment of statutory contributions by some Member Nations. He pointed out that despite this unprecedented financial crisis, the Director-General had continued to give Africa real priority in the budgets and programmes of FAO.

35. Good rains had boosted agricultural production in the Region, and led to a larger number of countries with food surpluses. Average per capita food production, on the other hand, had not improved.

36. The Regional Representative then summarized FAO's activities in the Region in each sector (natural resources, crops, livestock, research and technology, food and nutrition, agricultural censuses and statistics, the Global Information and Early Warning System, food and agricultural policies, fisheries and forestry development technical cooperation among developing countries and special programmes).

37. During the general discussion, the Conference commended FAO for having carried out a wide range of activities despite the current severe financial austerity. The Conference acknowledged that the 1988-89 biennium had been a difficult period and prospects for the future remained bleak, a situation aggravated by the withholding of assessed contributions by some big contributors and delays in clearing arrears of payments. The Conference expressed concern that failure to honour obligations had resulted in the Organization's deferring the implementation of some important programmes.

38. In the discussion on financial matters, the Conference expressed the fear that recent political changes in eastern European countries might result in cuts of financial resources traditionally approved for Africa.

39. The Conference sought clarification on proposed changes in reimbursement of UNDP project-related costs to specialized agencies. Concerning this, the Conference was informed that the matter was on the agenda of the UNDP Governing Council meeting in Geneva and that no concrete decision had yet been taken. The Conference hoped, however that FAO and UNDP's complementary roles would be reinforced.

40. Given the role of food aid in economic development and agricultural production in African countries, the Conference hoped that emergency food aid would continue to be granted without any political strings. Concerning relations between the Committee on Food Aid Policies and Programmes (CFA) and ECOSOC on the one hand, and the Council of FAO on the other, the Conference was of the opinion that any change in the responsibility of CFA should be accompanied by more equally balanced representation within this body.

41. The Conference recalled that during the discussion for the 1990 - 91 Programme of Work and Budget, some delegations from major contributor countries had challenged the budget levels of the Technical Cooperation Programme, and complained of lack of transparency with regard to the allocation of TCP budgetary resources. The Conference deplored these moves as a way of influencing the use of and reducing TCP resources, to the detriment of the developing countries.

42. It was acknowledged that the FAO Regional Conferences for Africa had afforded African Ministers of Agriculture a distinct opportunity to exchange experiences and harmonize their views on agricultural development. It was recommended that the Regional Office be strengthened and more responsibility delegated to it in order to more effectively promote regional and subregional cooperation, in close partnership with the various regional and subregional bodies. It was likewise recommended that the FAO country offices be strengthened.

43. The Conference re-echoed its concern at the social costs of macro-economic adjustment, and regretted that FAO was not involved in the design of the first generation of structural adjustment programmes. It appealed to the Director-General to explore ways and means to increase cooperation with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the analysis and formulation of future structural adjustment programmes.

44. The Conference recommended that the Organization prepare a comprehensive follow-up programme concerning the range of studies, field investigations, and recommendations emanating from the various activities. This could be accomplished effectively if the absorptive capacity of member countries was improved, through, for instance, the training of trainers (extension workers), to better implement the recommendation. It was also suggested that FAO intensify its support to research at national, regional and international levels.

45. The Conference urged any Member Nations who had not yet done so to settle their statutory contributions to FAO for the current year without delay, and recalled the compelling need for member countries in arrears to meet their obligations so that the Programme of FAO approved by the Twenty-fifth Conference of FAO in 1988 could be implemented fully and without delay.

46. The Conference expressed grave concern with the threat which screwworm fly, recently identified in Libya posed to domestic animals, wildlife and even people. The Conference commended FAO for the action already undertaken to confront this scourge and asked it to promote and coordinate an eradication programme in collaboration with the other international organizations concerned and backed by the donor community.

Strategies for combatting malnutrition in Africa2

2 ARC/90/3

47. The Director of the Food Policy and Nutrition Division introduced this agenda item. He stated that the increase in dietary energy supply (DES) throughout the Region had been very slight in the last thirty years, statistics indicating a virtual stagnation of dietary energy availability in all subregions. The daily per capita DES in 1986 was 2 158 kcal compared to an estimated average energy requirement of 2 112 kcal, too narrow a margin to lower the rate of malnutrition in the Region. In fact, at least one African in three was not getting enough to eat and the trend in recent years had made Africa the part of the world where the nutrition situation gave the greatest cause for concern. The alarming economic and social impact of this situation constituted a severe handicap to the development process in the countries concerned.

48. Strategies to improve Africa's food and nutrition situation and action and measures implemented by governments and international agencies to tackle the issue were reviewed, and the Conference was asked to express its thoughts and put forth proposals on a clear, coherent strategy which could apply region-wide. These proposals might eventually become part of the contribution by the Region's governments to the preparation of the International Conference on Nutrition to be held in Rome in December 1992.

49. The Assistant Director-General and personal representative of the Regional Director for Africa of the World Health Organization also made a statement. After commending the long and productive partnership between the two agencies in the area of food and nutrition, he went on to underscore the importance of the forthcoming International Conference on Nutrition as an occasion to draw attention to malnutrition in the world today. This Conference would also highlight the diseases of affluence which were a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the industrialized countries, and in the developing countries as well. With regard to the African Continent, he emphasized that 10 - 20 percent of Africa's children had a birth weight of under 2.5 kg. An estimated minimum of 60 million children under the age of five were chronically undernourished: 10 million children acutely so. Vitamin A deficiency affected over 50 million people, and iodine deficiency over 150 million, causing cretinism among many. Nutritional anaemia was widespread among women. To combat these ills, a special Interagency African Regional Taskforce on food and nutrition development had recently been formed, as had an FAO/Unicef/WHO Technical Group on Nutrition. Furthermore, the WHO Regional Committee for Africa adopted a resolution in September 1989 to establish an International Decade on Food and Nutrition in the African Region, of which the main thrust would be the formulation of medium-term national plans of action for food and nutrition.

50. The Conference noted with concern that the food and nutrition situation in the Region had continued to decline and that this had severely handicapped development strategies in recent decades. The nutritional diseases and disorders present in Africa ranged from severe undernourishment through micro-nutrient deficiency diseases to diseases of affluence. This situation was attributable to low agricultural production, inadequate communication and marketing networks, low purchasing power, substandard sanitary conditions and inappropriate patterns of diet.

51. The Conference stressed that the underlying principle of a long-term strategy to improve food and nutrition in the Region should be to make nutrition an integral component of economic development plans, especially those concerning agricultural development. It was equally essential to make nutritional considerations part and parcel of rural development programmes and projects, as of forestry and fishery activities. The resources of the Region were frequently underutilized: programmes to improve both quality and yield through new agricultural research orientations were needed.

52. Acknowledging the lack of trained manpower as a major constraint to an analysis of the food and nutrition situation and the formulation of short-, medium- and long-term strategies, the Conference recommended that top priority be given to remedying this lack. The Conference stressed the importance of appropriate institutional mechanisms for genuine multisectoral action, as for ensuring the participation of qualified staff in the design of appropriate strategies and interventions, their implementation, and evaluation of the results. The Conference also stressed that any review of nutrition issues needed to pay due attention to the relation between "macro" and "micro" levels, so as to be able to appraise the impact of national policies on households.

53. The Conference acknowledged that the Region had substantial agro-pastoral potential but little control over the market. National production strategies therefore needed to be incorporated into subregional food security networks. The Conference stressed the urgent need to strengthen African regional and subregional cooperation, particularly in the fields of food technology, marketing and storage, in order to guarantee food quality and stable supplies.

54. The Conference affirmed that nutrition strategies in the Region were uniformally based on the achievement of household food security, and that the application of this strategy at district level provided an effective, flexible guarantee of household food security. In this context, the Conference declared that traditional peasant agriculture had to move from subsistence farming into the higher-performance sphere of market-economy agriculture.

55. The Conference stressed that any African nutritional strategy needed to address the key role played by women in nutrition and recommended measures to promote greater productivity and a higher income for women through access to improved plant and animal species, the right training, and specific assistance from the specialized home economics and extension services. The Conference noted that people were not sufficiently aware of the nutritional properties of traditional African foods, and that efforts were needed to promote the cultivation and consumption of these foods to make people aware of their value.

56. The Conference noted with satisfaction that nutrition was now a component of existing and future early warning programmes. The Conference also noted that the nutritional indicators developed by FAO were being used in programmes designed to measure the social dimension of adjustment policies from the outset. The Conference approved the expansion of these techniques as part of a proposed global nutrition surveillance system designed to identify problems, target interventions and evaluate results.

57. The Conference underscored the significant role played by nutrition education systems tailored to local situations in improving nutrition through the carefully planned utilization of household resources and the avoidance of aberrant dietary behaviour. The Conference stressed the need to develop teaching materials in local languages and to make use of modern media to get the message about a healthy diet across to the mass of the population. Rural radio had proved highly effective in this context, particularly among illiterate populations.

58. The Conference noted with satisfaction that progress had been made in upgrading the quality of street foods. The rapid urbanization underway in the Region had considerably increased the intake of street foods by urban dwellers, a fact which mandated measures to control the preparation, sale and safety of these foods. Concerning this, the Conference appealed to donors to finance the quality control and staff training infrastructures necessary to allow member countries to meet import standards for their commodities.

59. The Conference expressed its satisfaction with the participation of WHO at the Regional Conference. The Conference commended the exemplary cooperation in nutrition between FAO and WHO, and fully supported their joint initiative to convene an International Conference on Nutrition. The Conference therefore recommended that its conclusions and recommendations on strategies to improve the food and nutrition situation in Africa be duly taken into account in the preparatory work for the International Conference on Nutrition. Concerning this, the Conference hoped that full use would be made of existing inter-agency mechanisms in Africa, such as the African Regional Taskforce and the FAO/Unicef/WHO Technical Group on Nutrition, in the preparatory and follow-up work of the forthcoming International Conference.

The conservation and rehabilitation of African lands: An international scheme3

3 ARC/90/4

60. The Regional Soil Resources Officer introduced this paper which had been developed with the assistance of African experts, following the recommendations of the Fourteenth FAO Regional Conference in Yamoussoukro (Côte d'Ivoire) in 1986.

61. The document pointed out that Africa had considerable agricultural potential, which over the past centuries African farmers had conserved through systems of agriculture such as shifting cultivation and nomadic grazing. But with rapidly increasing populations, these traditional land use and conservation systems were unable to adapt in time to the increased demand for production and the outcome had been widespread land degradation.

62. Although some countries had started soil conservation activities more than 50 years ago, the results had been mixed with some successes interspersed with many failures. In general, soil conservation programmes had proved very expensive and not very effective because farmers had generally not been involved from the start and had not accepted or maintained the structures built.

63. A new approach to land conservation and rehabilitation was therefore needed, with governments still taking overall responsibility, and at the same time promoting the participation and initiatives of rural people in finding economically feasible and socially acceptable solutions and practices.

64. Fortunately, such solutions existed, combining soil conservation with increased productivity. Some were based on maintaining permanent plant cover, others on barriers designed to retain soil and runoff water for use by the crops.

65. Africa is such a vast continent that it would be impossible to produce a single blueprint applicable throughout, but a framework for action was possible. This would comprise three major lines of action that could be followed in any country wishing to develop an effective programme to conserve and rehabilitate its land resources. These were: improving land use, encouraging the participation of land users, and developing institutions.

66. Improving land use involved an inventory of the land resources which would identify their potential, aptitudes, and degraded areas. The causes for their misuse could then be identified in order to treat the root causes rather than the symptoms.

67. The land users would need to plan and implement their own solutions in accordance with their own interests, with governments helping to identify their problems, whilst encouraging and assisting them and helping to strengthen back-up services. Start-up food assistance might well help farmers but longer-term aid would lessen their interest in maintaining the results.

68. A high-level committee could guide the formulation of a local, provincial and national conservation strategy, as well as policy development, coordination and monitoring. Besides national activities, each country could benefit from regional and subregional cooperation network programmes, sharing experiences and costs - particularly in research and training.

69. The formidable task of a full-scale conservation and rehabilitation programme would, for many countries, require international assistance and effective international coordination. The provision of such assistance was the responsibility of governments and financing institutions, donors, technical assistance agencies and NGOs, working closely together to develop long-term programmes.

70. The proposed scheme would begin with a review mission, at government request, including national experts and representatives of interested international agencies. This mission would assess conditions and produce a set of draft land conservation and rehabilitation policies, carefully harmonized with the national development plan and other ongoing sectorial plans within the country, such as the Tropical Forestry Action Plan.

71. Based on this assessment, the government could then elaborate an action plan for the conservation and rehabilitation of the nation's land. Within this framework, projects could then be identified and formulated for the priority areas designated by the government. It could request technical participation of FAO, other institutions, and potentially interested donors. A round-table meeting with all relevant donor and technical assistance agencies could then study the proposed projects and their financing.

72. Such an approach would allow governments to develop and guide long-term plans and programmes suited to their requirements. It would associate technical assistance and donor agencies with all planning and implementation phases, and would provide a means to supply long-term assistance and select projects in a systematic way.

73. All in all, the proposed programme would concentrate mainly on the cultivated lands and pastures where degradation was particularly severe and directly threatened agricultural production, whereas watershed and forest land conservation would generally come under activities developed by TFAP and the national forestry institutions. Nonetheless, the latter activities should be coordinated within the national policies and programmes developed under the present scheme.

74. During the discussions, all delegates commended the quality of the document, its clear presentation and the audio-visual introduction. They supported the recommendations of the Scheme and endorsed it as a whole while asking FAO to take the necessary steps to implement it.

75. Several delegations highlighted the seriousness and extent of the various kinds of land degradation, pointing out that it was affecting productivity and destroying the livelihood of the people to the point where some were forced to emigrate. The delegates indicated the work already done in their countries, the vast sums spent on different projects, for example, for gully control, and the rarity of success.

76. The Conference emphasized the need for a new approach, mobilizing the land users themselves, whose active and involved participation was essential to the success of any land conservation and rehabilitation activity.

77. It was recognized that the Scheme provided a framework within which countries would be able to define their own policies and plans, in accordance with their specific environmental and socio-economic conditions.

78. A meaningful basis for planning would require natural resource assessment and land evaluation.

79. Excessive pressure on the environment could be decreased in some cases through stimulating non-agricultural employment, and facilitating, where possible, migration to carefully chosen areas. Proper land management, integration of livestock in farming systems, and the adoption of integrated plant nutrition systems, including the optimal use of nitrogen-fixing crops, could help increase yields and conserve soil fertility.

80. The Conference recognized that African countries as a whole faced severe financial constraints and lacked trained workers and the means of acquiring agricultural inputs, thus inhibiting them from undertaking programmes on the scale required.

81. Because the problems of land degradation transcended national boundaries, the Conference hoped that FAO would provide leadership and coordination in this field, inviting nations to share the burden of the work and to pool their knowledge and experience. Land degradation was a long-term problem calling for long-term solutions, dealing with the root causes rather than just the symptoms.

82. The delegates expressed the wish for an international conference to discuss the problems and arrive at the necessary solutions. They hoped for international participation in this programme. The Conference recognized the severe shortage of soil conservation experts and middle-level extension agents. This shortage demanded a major training effort which would enable countries to manage their agricultural development on a lasting basis.

83. While the procedure for coordinating international action was considered generally sound, the delegates pointed out that, in some cases, the procedure could well be speeded up if elements were already in place. The Conference considered integration of the Scheme with other programmes, such as Aid-in-Kind, most desirable.

84. The Conference recognized the value of the ongoing technical cooperation between some industrialized countries and FAO on the subject of soil conservation. One example was the recent French initiative "Observatoire du Sahara et du Sahel", which could become a useful adjunct to the Scheme under discussion.

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