8. In his opening speech, Mr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO, expressed his great pleasure to be in South Africa, the symbol of Africas renaissance and extended his gratitude to President Thabo Mbeki and to the Government of the Republic of South Africa for their generous hospitality.
9. The Director-General recalled that the number of undernourished people, most of whom were in developing countries, was on the rise and that at the current pace, the WFS goals would be achieved only in 2150. He further pointed out that the prices of major commodities exported by developing countries were now lower than ever. Hence, in line with Doha Development Agenda for agriculture and the role of FAOs Committee on Commodity Problems, the Director-General intended to invite the representatives of the ministries of trade to the meeting of this Committee in February 2005. He pointed out that investment in agricultural development had dropped and in order to address the issue, FAO decided to jointly organize, with regional development banks, round tables on financing agriculture to be held in parallel with each of its 2004 Regional Conferences in the developing regions.
10. He stated that national alliances were being formed in member countries following the establishment of an International Alliance Against Hunger during the World Food Summit: five years later.
11. The Director-General emphasized the need for developing countries to take up the challenge of agricultural productivity and market competitiveness to improve their food security by addressing issues of land and water management, urban and peri-urban agriculture, livestock and transboundary diseases. He outlined FAOs initiatives in the area of forestry, fisheries and sustainable development projects for mountain regions and Small Island Developing States. FAO is striving to tackle women's unequal access to production resources.
12. He then briefly outlined central issues for discussion during the Conference among which was the implementation of the CAADP of NEPAD. In this regard, he indicated that FAO and other development partners were assisting member countries in CAADP-related activities. He encouraged exchange of experience on measures member countries have undertaken to implement the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa. He stated that the Conference would also examine a proposal to integrate fisheries, forestry and livestock component into CAADP; food security reserve systems in Africa; and the implications of fertilizer production and use in Africa. He underscored the importance of the availability and use of fertilizer for significant and sustainable improvement in Africas agricultural productivity.
13. He also urged the international community to adopt the required measures that would enable more fair trade among all parties, notably between developing and developed countries.
14. Finally, he expressed the urgent need to translate the Maputo Declaration and Sirte commitments into coherent, realistic and effective programmes. In concluding, he wished the delegates of the Twenty-third FAO Africa Regional Conference (ARC) successful deliberations.
The full text of the Statement is attached as Appendix D.
15. His Excellency, Thabo Mbeki, President of the Republic of South Africa, extended a warm welcome to all delegates and thanked FAO for allowing South Africa the honour of joining the African family of nations to host the Twenty-third Africa Regional Conference.
16. The President reflected that development is about transforming societies, improving the lives of the poor, enabling everyone to have a chance at success and access to health care and education. President Mbeki elaborated that the situation of the continent and the tasks politicians had set themselves within the context of the African Union and its development programme, the New Partnership for Africas Development (NEPAD), made it imperative that experts, politicians and the African small scale farmers worked together in a broad partnership towards the betterment of the latter.
17. The President of South Africa observed that whether politicians talked about achieving a better life for all, working towards poverty eradication, changing the conditions of the working people or improving gender equality and the emancipation of women, it all came down to working with rural men and women. He recognised, however, that governments investment in the past had often favoured the rural elite and the urban upper and middle classes rather than the small family operator. He called upon the current political leadership to allocate sufficient resources to agricultural development programmes while ensuring an active engagement of the peasant masses.
18. The President concluded by calling on the participants to be dedicated to the strategic task to end the vulnerability, exclusion and powerlessness of our peasant masses, determined to ensure that they are liberated from fear and hunger, and that their voices are heard loud and clear. After this, he declared the Twenty-third Africa Regional Conference open and wished the delegates success in their deliberations.
The full text of the Address is attached as Appendix E.
19. The Independent Chairman of the FAO Council, His Excellency Aziz Mekouar, expressed his appreciation to FAO for organizing the regional conference, in Johannesburg, South Africa, that had coincided with the celebration of the 10th year of the end of apartheid. He then congratulated the Technical Committee for the report and thanked the Director-General for his active engagement in the development of African agriculture.
20. He pointed out that the Conference provided a platform to discuss crucial issues of African agriculture in the framework of NEPAD in order to improve food security, reduce poverty and assure prosperity in the region. He further indicated that despite variation in African economies, most of them were characterized by low agricultural performance. It is for this reason that he expressed his keen interest in the outcome of the discussions, especially as regards CAADP implementation and other related agenda items of the conference. He further expressed his satisfaction that the issue of financing for agriculture would be discussed at the roundtable organized as a parallel event.
21. He expressed his appreciation to the Government and the people of South Africa for hosting the Regional Conference. He thanked the FAO Regional Office for Africa for the quality of the organization of the Conference and the Technical Committee for their excellent work. He wished the delegates fruitful deliberations.
22. In her statement to the Conference, Ms. Sheila Sisulu, Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) expressed her anticipation for collaborative work towards eradicating hunger and malnutrition in Africa. She stated that it was alarming to note that the number of hungry people in Africa was growing, contrary to other regions. She indicated that while causes of hunger were many and complex, the devastating effects were the same. She stated that until hunger was stamped out and universal education introduced, it would be difficult to eradicate poverty.
23. She referred to WFP collaboration with NEPAD, for feeding and schooling 40 million African children. She stressed the need for special assistance to some 34 million orphans - 11 million as a result of HIV/AIDS.
24. She outlined that one of WFPs five strategic priorities for 2004-2007 was to help governments establish and manage their own food assistance programmes. She concluded that fewer resources implied the need to eliminate duplication and maximize synergy. In this regard, the WFP Deputy Executive Director informed the Conference that the Rome-based UN Agencies were collaborating on a twin track approach to ending hunger: providing short-term investments in food aid and looking into possibilities for long-term investments.
25. The Conference welcomed the comprehensive report presented by Mr. Joseph Tchicaya, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa, informing on FAO activities in Africa during the biennium 2002-2003. It presented follow-up measures to recommendations of the 22nd ARC, especially with regard to FAO technical assistance to countries in the implementation of the SPFS, support to the NEPAD Secretariat and to African ministries in the field of strengthening their capacities on addressing gender issues in agricultural development.
26. Member countries commended FAOs active role in support of African Agriculture, particularly the NEPAD-CAADP. They expressed their appreciation of FAO support to many countries in their efforts to improve policy management for agriculture productivity and food security. In this regard, member countries recommended that next Regional Conferences should be organized in a way that country statements focused mainly on key success stories to share with the others.
27. The Conference noted that selected FAO achievements in individual countries could be of high interest to neighbouring countries because of the cross-border implications. It was therefore recommended that FAO should adopt a sub-regional approach when implementing such programmes.