Mr. Chairman of the Council, Mr. Director-General, Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen,What an honour and pleasure for me as Secretary-General of OAU to appear before this Council and to bring you, on behalf of the whole Organization of the African Continent, of all the Member Countries and in my own name, the fraternal greetings of all Africa which more than ever faces enormous problems of underdevelopment that cause it to remain in constant touch with the activities, work and results of your prestigious Organization.
By devoting its existence to fighting hunger and improving rural life in the world, particularly in the developing countries, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has earned badges of glory among the African peoples whom it has helped on many occasions, which I refrain from praising out of respect for the discretion which has always surrounded the activities of your Organization.
Nevertheless, allow me at least to thank the Director-General and all his staff for the special attention they have constantly paid to Africa in its present dramatic situation.
At the end of this year, 1980, the beginning of the third decade of our independence, the African Continent is passing through such a hard period, a socio-economic situation so fragile that its future is uncertain. Should I once again take the opportunity of drawing the picture of the socio-economic life of our Africa at the dawn of the Third Development Decade? All those who are aware of and open to today’s problems know that the first two Development Decades have hardly improved the living standards of Africans, and that in the field of agricultural and food production Africa is in serious difficulties. The past twenty years have been characterized by gradual deterioration of African agriculture, resulting in a disastrous food situation, with precarious living conditions for the rural masses on our Continent.
The present state of African agriculture is disturbing. Two sectors coexist in it: one is a modern sector, often privileged by the public authorities, which produces export commodities Is not this the sector that absorbs the major share of the funds allocated to agriculture, attracts the greatest attention from technical advisers, receives virtually all pesticides, and is the object of most of the studies devoted to the sector? As for the traditional sector, it includes more than 90 percent of the African peasants; doesn’t it appear to be the poor relation while continuing to be the major food production sector although it lacks everything and its production methods are so rudimentary, that productivity is constantly decreasing? Who can tell the dangers and perverse effects of this situation marked by an obvious dualism? This dualism which characterizes our agriculture leads to a paradox: African agriculture produces more to satisfy consumption markets outside our Continent than to provide food for Africans. This is a phenomenon of extroversion which I am denouncing ceaselessly. The consequence of this paradox is an ever more alarming dependence of Africa on food products of foreign origin. Africa produces a considerable share of the world’s coffee, cocoa, cotton, sugar, groundnuts, sisal, palm-oil, tropical fruits, tropical timber, natural rubber, etc., but its grain imports since 1960 have increased steadily, from two million tons in 1960 to six million in 1970, ten million in 1976, 12 million in 1978 and they are expected to total more than 14 million in 1980.
Moreover these massive imports of food products have not ensured the food security of the African populations: persistence of hunger in a large part of the Continent, periodic famines with hundreds of thousands of victims, these are the corollaries of the deplorable situation African agriculture is experiencing.
As you stated so wall yesterday, Mr. Director-General, 26 African countries today have to get along with smaller harvests than in the past. Africans today have to make do with ten percent less food than ten years ago.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we still remember the famines of 1972 and 1973 and before our eyes looms the spectre of famine in the Sahel and East Africa . There millions of human beings, millions of Africans are threatened with an atrocious death unless the world’s conscience is aroused to urge donors to act quickly. But apart from famine, which certainly is a dreadful but passing phenomenon, we have under-nutrition, malnutrition, hunger which causes all the more victims on the Continent as population growth continues to be decidedly higher than economic growth. If, according to the forecasts of the Ottawa Conference of October 1979 which was devoted to food, 1980 will witness the death of 50 million people from hunger throughout the world, what will be Africa ’s sad share in this grotesque performance? It seems to emerge as we read the news agency dispatches reporting the drama experienced by a number of African countries at this time. All the countries of the Sahel and East Africa and some of the countries of South Africa are going through such an agonizing food situation that FAO and the World Food Programme and other international organizations have already launched appeals to the more favoured countries to come to the aid of the unfortunate populations.
This distressing panorama of African agriculture and this painful food situation of Africa should lead us to profound reflection to gain a better understanding so as to act forcefully and efficiently.
We believe that several factors combine to explain the ruinous state of African agriculture today. Obviously there is inadequate control of the natural environment by Africans. As a result, today they are using barely 26 percent of their agricultural potential, farmland is mostly underutilized, water courses are still largely unregulated, diseases of all kinds, harmful insects and animals, drought and other natural disasters considerably reduce the production capacity of agriculture and livestock production. However, one of the essential causes of the drama of Africa ’s primary sector derives from a poor concept of development policy; in other words a concept that has failed to integrate agricultural development within the general framework of the economic development strategy of African countries. Following the lessons o the economic history of developed countries, the agricultural revolution should have been made the first condition of a real economic policy that can cover all sectors of the economy of the African countries. As regards the food crisis, we can say without error that the causes of its persistence reside in the partitioning of markets, the inadequacy of means of communication, the absence of buffer stocks and storage facilities and the scarce attention devoted to agriculture.
I need hardly present this severe diagnosis to you who are thoroughly familiar with the data. In fact, as early as 1976 the African Ministers of Agriculture meeting at their Ninth FAO Regional Conference for Africa in November adopted the Freetown Declaration on the preparation of a regional FAO plan to ensure the food self-sufficiency of the African region in a period of ten years. The AFPLAN adopted at the Tenth FAO Regional Conference for Africa at Arusha in September 1978 seems to me to be an extremely important document, and its proposals for concrete action enable me to tell you that it was used as the basis for the formulation of the “Food and Agriculture” section of the Lagos Plan of Action for the application of the Monrovia Strategy for the economic development of Africa . Now that Plan continues to be the basis of African action in all fields and a legitimate hope for the future.
Mr. Chairman, that Lagos Plan of Action reflects the unshakable will of the Africans, after the failure of two decades of development, to promote a development stemming from within and centred in Africa by integrating all its economies, to put an end to extroversion so as to rediscover what I have termed the "cape" of African introversion. From this standpoint food and agriculture are entitled to a priority position.
First of all, resolutely turning its back on agricultural policies pursued by African countries up to now, the Action Plan clearly stipulates that the development of agriculture should not be considered in isolation but rather should be integrated into the economic and social development process, with special emphasis on the latter aspect, on the problem of improving living conditions in the rural sector. Under the heading "Effective Agricultural Revolution", the Action Plan proposes a series of measures for increasing agricultural, food, fishery and livestock production to ensure the Continent’s food security. The purpose, beyond ad hoc measures accompanied by concrete proposals concerning all the branches of the primary sector and not neglecting the other sectors of the economy, is to transform the agrarian structures and production systems, modernize agricultural production methods and to improve rural living conditions so as to make agricultural activity and rural life attractive to African youth. We see in this the will to integrate the African farmer in a real development process whereas until now he appeared rather to be a poor relative in the growth without development experienced by most of the Continent’s countries.
You may tell me that this is undoubtedly an ambitious programme, and Africa has to count on full support from FAO for its implementation. Indeed, it is in such generous support that the Heads of State and Government of OAU have expressly requested, in the section of the Action Plan dealing with Food and Agriculture that OAU, in cooperation with ECA, FAO, IFAD, WFP and the other international organizations concerned, should undertake studies and submit recommendations to the next Economic Summit with a view to creating regional agencies for marketing and distributing food produce.
The past and present activities of FAO in Africa strengthen the feeling we Africans have that it will not disappoint Africa in the implementation of the Lagos Plan of Action which is of such importance for the future of the Continent.
Since its establishment, the OAU has taken full advantage of all that Africa could gain from close cooperation with FAO: for example, in April 1969 a real cooperation agreement in all sectors was signed between the OAU and FAO. This was the point of departure for a sincere collaboration which resulted in the joint establishment between the OAU, FAO and WHO of the FAO/WHO/OAU Tripartite Commission on Food and Nutrition in Africa . In this framework OAU hopes for the establishment of another FAO/UNDP/OAU Commission for the Inter-African Programme to combat drought, desertification and other natural disasters. It seems essential to us at this time when the furies of nature are striking Africa to draw the lessons of twelve years’ cooperation so as to better prepare our joint tasks for the future.
Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, it would be tiresome to list all the activities the Organization has successfully undertaken on our Continent. Nevertheless, I cannot fail to mention FAO’s effective role in promoting a food stockpiling policy within the CILSS framework, its action in financing OCLALAV pest-control projects, its technical assistance for working out a dynamic fishery policy, its contribution to a seed distribution policy, an agricultural mechanization system as well as the use of new energy sources, and above all its efforts in assessing natural and human resources in food production and specialized training. These activities honour the Organization and assure it of considerable esteem on the Continent.
Mr. Chairman, to these activities I must add the Organization’s most recent work for developing countries in general and Africa in particular: the Director-General in his statement devoted special attention to the food and agricultural situation in developing countries and did not fail to specify his efforts for implementation of the Five-Point World Food Security Plan and to induce the International Monetary Fund to promote the setting-up of the Food Fund. In regard to Africa , his modesty went so far as to pass over in silence his innumerable personal interventions to allay the food distress of our peoples. Africa and OAU cannot adequately express their gratitude to our friend Edouard Saouma: he has shown boundless generosity and uncommon vigour in organizing conferences upon conferences to induce donors to increase their aid to African populations stricken by all kinds of natural disasters; he has repeatedly travelled to the Continent recently to attend meetings of OAU or subregional organizations.
These past and present activities of FAO, these past and present actions of the Director- General are in our opinion the guarantee of the confidence Africa and OAU have in him; they express the hope of Africans regarding the contribution FAO will make to implementation of the Lagos Plan of Action. I is not surprising therefore that the Summit of OAU Heads of State and Government at Freetown adopted a resolution wholeheartedly supporting Mr. Edouard Saouma
I am glad to hear the Director-General say and I quote: "In the preparation of the Summary Programme of Work and Budget for 1982-83, on which I am about to embark, I intend to give high priority to the needs of African countries as well as to those of other Regions…" This means that the appeal of the Chiefs of State and Government has already had a favourable echo with the Director-general, and I hope, Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, that your Council will fulfil the wish expressed by our whole Continent by helping the Organization of African Unity to achieve its task of modernizing African agriculture. Yes, Mr. Chairman, Africa is at the crossroads and all measures must be taken, now, for its protection and survival. It is aware of this. It has already taken the necessary measures, but it needs your support.
Mr. Chairman, after two decades of independence which have not changed the living conditions of its people, Africa is determined to rethink development on the basis of new concepts and to work out its own development model which draws lessons from the experience of other peoples. This new approach has integrated the agricultural and food development plan into the overall framework of a new economic and social develoxpment strategy. Without being unduly emotional, we may nevertheless say that it is a question of achieving a veritable agricultural revolution, a condition sine qua non for the success of any true development policy.
It is FAO’s duty to help Africa and the Africans to carry out this colossal and at the same time exciting task which should make the right to food something other than a mere proclamation, something other than that vain thing borne by the wind, as the poet says.
In these times of despair, in these difficult moments when each passing minute is accompanied by the disappearance of 20 hectares of humid tropical forest in Africa and by expansion of the desert toward the south, the death of thousands of human beings from hunger, and when food has become a redoubtable weapon manipulated by the multinationals of agro-business and certain countries, disasters spare no one. In this connexion, I should like to offer the condolences of my Organization to the Italian Government on the irreparable losses occurring in the southern part of that country as a result of the disaster about which you all know. OAU, which still believes in the merits of well-understood international cooperation, asks FAO to place all its competence at the service of the developing countries and Africa
In wishing complete success for the work of the Seventy-eighth Session of your Council, I ask you, Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen and Delegates, to think of the hundreds of millions of children, women and men throughout the world who are hungry and are waiting for their right to food to be recognized at long last.
But knowing your commitment, your high awareness of this painful and heart-rending problem, your keen sense of responsibility, I am confident and I tell myself: Now we have good reason to hope.