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Appendix G - Statement by the director-general to the nineteenth FAO regional conference for Africa

Mr Chairman,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is not by chance that the Nineteenth FAO Regional Conference for Africa is being held in Burkina Faso, a land of free people where the three Volta Rivers - the Red, the Black and the White - come together to form a single mighty waterway. We all know how important the big river basins are for agriculture, development and African life itself: and water is somehow also symbolic of the Conference that opens today.

FAO is a specialized agency of the United Nations and, as such, has a universal vocation, but its Director-General is well aware that he must draw on the deep-rooted values of his Continent to reach the wider dimension of a world response. Understandably, then, I feel particularly moved to be here in the midst of my African brothers and sisters, who have gathered together to review the state of food and agriculture in their region and to seek sustainable agricultural development and food security for the present and future inhabitants of this vast continent.

We meet again as a family, joined by our common love for Africa and I know that I speak for you all as I express our profound gratitude to the Government and people of this noble land for the warm and caring welcome that they have extended to the participants of this Regional Conference.

The subjective nature of my personal attachment is based, however, on the objective reality of the agricultural situation in Africa which is more worrying than that of any other region in the world and should therefore be given priority attention by the international community.

The difficulties assailing this vast continent are many: droughts and other whims of weather; plagues of locusts and pests; fragile and swiftly depleted soils; desertification; disease affecting or preventing husbandry over vast tracts of land; inadequate control and inefficient utilization of water; the unchecked rural exodus - all compounded by murderous conflicts and a refugee population wholly without historical precedent. This picture will, unfortunately, be all too familiar to you: your governments are doing all they can to prevent these acute problems from attaining disaster proportions.

That their efforts cannot always control sudden production slumps as a result of drought and floods, nor stave off the spectre of famine that reaps thousands of human lives is a tragic reality. Yet, awesome and appalling as these emergencies are, they weigh less heavily on the future of me African people than the chronic undernutrition and malnutrition rampant in so many countries of the continent. We should remember that of the current 88 low-income, food-deficit countries in the world, 42 - almost half - lie in sub-Saharan Africa.

Famines set off powerful bursts of solidarity in the world, but these tend to be short-lived Meanwhile, the global level of development aid is falling, as is the share of this aid earmarked for agriculture.

What will happen if nothing is done to change the course of events? Population growth projections tell us that by the year 2010 (in less than 15 years) an estimated 300 million Africans will be suffering from chronic malnutrition.

Such a prospect is clearly unacceptable. That is why FAO decided to launch a large-scale operation to enlist a solemn commitment at the top level to eliminate hunger and malnutrition and to undertake concerted action at global, regional and national level to ensure food security for all. This has been the underlying aspiration behind the organization of the World Food Summit to be held in Rome this November.

The preparation of the Summit is one of the main items on the agenda of this Conference, which is being asked to take a common regional stance on this important question. Any solution to me terrible problems of today inevitably entails an unprecedented scale of policies and measures that can only be implemented after collective and profound reflection by all interested parties, including the public authorities, universities and researchers, the private sector, NGOs and, more particularly, farmers' organizations, women and the young.

You, with your responsibilities for the rural and agricultural sector in that part of the world most at risk from food insecurity, are surely in the best position to interpret for the international community the nature and scale of this dramatic situation, and to help frame the action so urgently needed to resolve it.

Reassuringly, this initiative has already been enthusiastically endorsed by the Organization of African Unity whose Council adopted a resolution in February this year inviting the African States to mobilize individually and collectively for the success of this initiative, and to make a particularly active contribution to the Summit and its preparation. This resolution follows in the wake of the June 1995 resolution by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU. Also as regards the Summit, the Secretariat of the OAU has drawn up a draft text defining Africa's common position on food security and agricultural development. I note with pleasure these renewed manifestations of the unfailing cooperation between the OAU and FAO-I see this resolute commitment on the part of the African community as a clear sign of hope. It also shows that Africa's leaders are fully aware of the implications, and are determined to respond singly and collectively to the challenge of food insecurity.

Such clarity of purpose will inevitably be countered by scepticism, here and there, questioning the need for the Summit. What, they may well ask, is the point, after so many initiatives of all kinds? Was not concern to feed the world the springboard for the establishment of FAO 50 years ago, followed by the Freedom from Hunger Campaign, the two World Food Congresses of 1963 and 1970, the World Food Conference of 1974 and, more recently, the International Conference on Nutrition in 1992? We can answer this on two levels. Firstly, this will be the first time in the 50 years since FAO was founded that a meeting on these issues is held at the level of Heads of State and Government. And the fact that the proposal was unanimously approved by the Conference of FAO and the United Nations General Assembly clearly attests that the world food problem has now become very serious. Secondly, while

FAO's mandate has not changed from that laid down by the founding fathers in its Constitution, the sheer size and the nature, even, of the problems at hand have evolved with a speed typical of the century in which we live. And lastly, it is FAO's fundamental responsibility to alert world opinion and world leaders to the deteriorating food situation before it attains catastrophic proportions.

There has undoubtedly been prodigious progress in the realms of technology and know-how, and there is no question that the transformation in plant and animal production, the knowledge and use of inputs, water management skills, progress in resource conservation, storage and processing techniques have revolutionized the rural and agricultural sectors in many countries.

And yet, at the same time, there are more than twice as many mouths to feed, and as their number continues to grow, available per capita farmland diminishes. Need we recall that Africa is the only region in the world in which average food output per inhabitant has fallen during the last 25 years? The intensive exploitation synonymous with some developed countries degrades the environment, while in the poor countries, forest cover is shrinking fast and increasingly marginal land is being brought under the plough, so accelerating the pace of erosion. Fishery resources are overexploited and in this as in many other domains, nature can no longer regenerate its resources as fast as people destroy them.

Additionally, even though there is now enough food to feed everyone in the world, its distribution remains terribly unequal, both within and between countries, and from one region to another. The poverty of certain social groups and nations is driving a terrible wedge, a situation further aggravated by political upheaval, conflict, and the growing numbers of refugees and displaced persons - And in this respect, too, Africa is sorely affected. In the developing countries, nearly 800 million people suffer chronic undernutrition and some 200 million children under the age of five are affected by acute or chronic protein and calorie deficiency. We are very far from the vision of FAO's founding fathers, and more than 20 years after the World Food Conference of 1974, the goal of "eradicating hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition within a decade" remains stubbornly beyond our grasp.

And yet, the right to food is the first and foremost of the human rights, without which the others have no meaning. How can a hungry person be expected to exercise his or her right to education, work and culture, or to participate fully in the political and social life of the community? Food and water loom prominently among the major world challenges as we enter the third millennium. The dimensions of the problem are ethical, political and strategic, and could lead to extremely violent and serious conflict unless we put things right.

FAO is so keenly aware of the need for strong, immediate action that it has launched a Special Programme on Food Production in Support of Food Security in Low-Income, Food-Deficit Countries without awaiting the world-level decisions that will be taken by the Summit. This Programme directed towards low-income, food-deficit countries is now being implemented. It is of direct concern to a number of African countries and you will be sufficiently familiar with it for me not to have to go into details. I should just like to underline, however, that its approach might serve as a source of inspiration in shaping the Policy Statement and Plan of Action that will be submitted for Summit approval.

This Programme addresses the challenge of food insecurity from several angles:

The main thrust is to work on a specific, day-to-day basis with farmers, livestock owners forest workers, fishing communities and fish farmers, so that they can sustainably increase their productivity and thus combat poverty. The Programme's activities include demonstrations of improved techniques in the farmers' own fields. Identification, implementation and evaluation are all done by those most directly involved: the farmers themselves.

Additionally, the Programme strongly emphasizes people's participation, particularly that of women. Women indeed play a predominant, multifaceted and totally irreplaceable role in feeding the household and community. In many regions (and especially in Africa), women are the main providers of food, which they grow, prepare and store. They are responsible for the children's education and for handing down cultural values and know-how related to food. Without broad-based people's participation, particularly of the feminine population, there would be no momentum or spillover effect no continuity, and no universal adhesion to a joint undertaking.

Lastly, there is the immense effort of cooperation and consultation at all levels: the recipient countries, FAO and donors; the recipient countries and developed countries offering bilateral aid; but also among the developing countries in the context of South-South exchanges.

The philosophy behind the Programme, now in its pilot phase in about 15 countries and showing promising results, will help to chart the major orientations of the Summit. The focus of the Summit will be on meaningful, sustainable action. In the spirit of UNCED's Agenda 21 Programme, rather than relentlessly pushing out agricultural boundaries and jeopardizing fragile ecosystems, efforts will centre on high-potential areas where productivity can be increased by intensifying fanning practices with, in particular, the conservation, collection and harnessing - and hence better management - of water. However, where this is not a feasible option, as in several countries in your region, marginal lands will have to be developed sustainably without causing environmental damage. The aim, in both cases, is to increase output sufficiently to cater for population growth and raise nutritional levels where serious food deficiencies exist. However, increasing output is only part of the equation; we need to ensure that the benefits from national efforts reach all members of society and particularly its poorest members. Measures will therefore be needed for more equitable access to food for all, more efficient distribution and far fewer food losses.

Public opinion and the media will have to be mobilized, with world political leaders setting the guidelines for resolute and dynamic food policies and solid sustained action. The general debate on food will also address the problems of investment and trade, which are key issues for Africa.

Beyond the Summit itself, what is needed is a truly global campaign, with cooperation and consultation at all levels. Following in the footsteps of the Freedom from Hunger Campaign, its theme would be " Food for All", which is the slogan FAO has adopted for the forthcoming years. The driving-force for this Food for All Campaign would be National Committees involving all segments of civil society, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, academic and research institutions, women's associations, and youth groups. To muster the support and mobilization necessary to ensure its success would demand long-term commitment and sustained resources. The mandate and objectives of the Food for All Campaign would be determined by the Summit, and its structure adapted to the specific situation of each country. The mechanism established would supplement the governmental FAO National Committees already in place. You have before you a document on this topic, and you may wish to recommend that the World Food Summit launch this Food for All Campaign.

How will this Summit differ from the many past attempts to combat hunger and malnutrition? Is this initiative any more likely to succeed than all its predecessors?

One original concept in the preparation of the Summit is that no costly special meetings have been required, with all necessary consultations being held during the course of regular sessions of the Organization's Statutory Bodies. Thus, at its Twenty-first Session a few weeks ago, the Committee on World Food Security began its review of the draft Policy Statement and Plan of Action that the Summit is to adopt, formulating several proposals in this respect. The text before you is therefore more than just a first draft, and will be further refined in the light of your comments - The Summit will be held at FAO Headquarters. Every effort is being made to involve all sectors in its preparation and to promote all initiatives that will help ensure its success.

The World Food Summit differs in many respects from previous events addressing the problem of world food security.

In contrast to recent high-level meetings, the Summit has been convened by a body that was specifically set up to deal with food and agricultural development, and which therefore has a solid base and the human and material resources to implement its programmes. Furthermore, two key practical initiatives are already in train to achieve food security for all and the Summit will be able to take concrete decisions so that these are effectively and globally implemented. I am speaking of the Special Programme on Food Security, and the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases.

The challenge before the World Food Summit is unprecedented, however. Even though much has been done to overcome hunger and malnutrition, to bolster agricultural growth and to ensure that food is distributed more equitably, past actions have for the most part been one-off, uncoordinated efforts. What is now required are articulated actions that will target every country where the need to secure or consolidate food security is becoming increasingly acute. The many implications of this huge undertaking will have to be squarely faced: production, conservation of the resource base, investment and infrastructure, and social and economic policies to guarantee fair distribution of food and income, not to mention the thorny issue of international trade. This is indeed a momentous challenge: how are we to change everything that needs changing in the world food situation? How are we to ensure regular access to an adequate diet for hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings?

FAO has not stood still on the long journey towards success. It has done - and I believe done well - everything that it has been asked to do. It has accomplished much solid work, such as furthering the international standards in force on pesticides, plant genetic resources and other matters. In the process, it has devoted considerable human and material resources to Africa, particularly through its field programmes. But has all this really changed life for the better in me villages of the Third World? Has productivity increased in the least-developed countries?

Has the use of fertilizers and other inputs and the biological control of pests and diseases been enough to raise production to the required level without harming the environment? Has definitive progress been made against hunger, malnutrition and the poverty of individuals and nations?

Unhappily, the answer is all too clearly no. There must be a way of doing more and doing better, of pooling our random efforts and mounting an all-out attack on hunger from all sides, for the good of future generations and for the very survival of the human race.

The huge surpluses in the developed countries (which were also hard to manage, economically speaking) were long (and erroneously) seen as a global cushion against serious shortfalls. But even back in the 1970s, the food crisis brought home how easily these mountains of surplus goods could vanish like snow in the sun, leaving painful shortages. After a renewed period of bumper surpluses, we are now back to a situation where the world's grain reserves have fallen below the level considered necessary to guarantee global food security. World prices have soared and the low-income, food-deficit developing countries will have to pay out an additional 3 billion dollars this year for their food imports.

The poet Aragon wrote that man's work is never done; but it is precisely this state of uncertainty that inspires human endeavour. Has not impending disaster always driven people to come up with the energy and inventive capacity required for their survival? Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are all living today in a state of impending disaster.

Paradoxically, however, this could prove to be the salvation of this and future generations, if only we can read the signs of the times and rise to the occasion. Untold clarity of mind, imagination, courage, patience and tenacity will be required, as will concerted mobilization on a scale largely unparalleled in human history. Citizens of all countries and ranks, of all ages and religions; associations and groups of all kinds; professionals from all sectors; community leaders in all walks of life, whether intellectual, social, economic, political or spiritual; government officials and representatives of all levels, men and women from the smallest village to the largest international organization will have to marshal their forces and rally together for an all-out joint effort.

Are there sufficient resources for such a vast undertaking? Will the interdependence of our global village outweigh the narrow short-term interests that divide it? I hope with all my heart that this is so.

Today this hope is a growing conviction. Africa's problems and its myriad trials have only served to sharpen the vision and strengthen the resolve of those responsible for its development, agriculture and food security. The unity that characterizes this meeting betokens success both for the World Food Summit and for the planet-wide mobilization that will be needed. Africa is destined to play a lead role, and has already begun with the OAU decisions I mentioned earlier. The fact that so many nations have come together today at this meeting, out of solidarity and a desire for justice, can only reinforce my conviction that the harder and the more serious the situation is, the more we can depend on human ingenuity.

It is therefore with full confidence and from the bottom of my heart that I wish you every success in your meeting. Thank you.

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