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Bamako, Mali, 2nd February 2006


Mr Prime Minister, Head of Government,
Mr President of the National Assembly,
Messrs Presidents of the Institutions of the Republic,
Mr Jacques Diouf, Director General of FAO,
Distinguished Ambassadors,
Ladies and Gentlemen, Representatives of the International Organizations,
Mr Governor of the District of Bamako,
Honourable Deputies,
Mr Mayor of the District of Bamako,
Mr Mayor of Ward III of the District of Bamako,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pride that Mali, an agropastoral country par excellence, welcomes this 24th Regional Conference for Africa of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO.

I should like to extend a warm welcome to Bamako to all the participants and to express the sincere gratitude of the Malian people to all those who worked for the selection of Mali as the venue of this important meeting and who contributed to its good organization.

My sincere thanks go to my brother Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO, for his personal involvement and that of his Organization in preparing the conference.

This is also an occasion for me to reiterate our profound congratulations on his brilliant re-election at the head of FAO.

The confidence that the Member Nations have just renewed in him is most eloquent testimony to the remarkable work accomplished at the head of FAO.

Mali is proud to have co-sponsored his candidature.

In you, Mr Director-General, we appreciate the man of conviction, your faith in the rich potential of African agriculture and the many battles that you are waging to enable our continent to draw benefit from this wealth.

You can count on the sustained and resolute support of Mali.

I should also like to express our total satisfaction to the president of the national organizing committee of the conference and to all his collaborators for the work accomplished.

I include our ambassador to FAO in Rome and all his staff who rallied behind this cause for many months.

Mr Director-General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

This regional conference in Bamako is taking place less than one year after the emergence of serious food problems in Sahel caused by poor rainfall and the widespread invasion of locusts.

The resulting food insecurity has been a painful experience in some of our regions. Our States have put appropriate emergency policies in place to deal with the precarious food situation.

But I can tell you from personal experience how difficult these moments are for a Statesman, as the right to food is the very first of the rights that we need to guarantee our populations.

This food crisis reawakened in me the terrible memory of the severe drought that struck the Sahel and other parts of the continent between 1968 and 1973, affecting 16 countries from Cape Verde to Ethiopia, and that reached its peak between 1972 and 1973.

As a young officer of the Malian army at the time, I took part in the food airlift to the northern regions that were affected by famine.

I witnessed first-hand:

- the pangs of hunger of the victims in the camps;

- the extreme suffering of the children;

- the difficulties of communities;

- the lack of water;

- the loss of livestock, the primary object of value;

- the degradation of the ecosystem;

- the displacement of populations;

- the disruption of the social fabric;

- and, above all, the blows to the pride and dignity of such noble men and women.

We will never measure the social, cultural, economic and financial impact of that severe drought on the northern regions of Mali.

The army's contribution was decisive in managing the emergency food relief, but that operation will always remain one of the toughest moments of my life as a soldier.

Slightly more than 30 years later, in 2004, as Head of State, I also had a hard time witnessing the consequences of the food insecurity that affected the human and livestock populations.

The rains ceased early and were poorly distributed.

The invasion of desert locusts and other plant pests caused prices to soar to unprecedented levels, benefiting speculation and the hoarding of cereal stocks and animal feed.

I know just how much my compatriots suffered from this situation, despite the efforts of the government which distributed cereals free of charge in the most affected areas and cancelled VAT on cereal imports – two measures cost more than 22 billion CFAF.

We received precious assistance from some of our partners in dealing with this food crisis.

We would however strongly emphasize that haste was not always the overriding concern in the mobilization of aid.

The international community was somewhat timid in its support for the control of locusts.

But its appeals were never met with the rapid response that the danger merited.

With regard to food aid, we sometimes had the feeling that words were not enough to move certain people, if those words were not accompanied by the most harrowing of images.

Emergency food aid needs to be mobilized under conditions that correspond to the objective, far from the futile squabbles of differing schools of thought.

It amounts to 35 000 tonnes of dry cereals each year, when the monthly consumption of maize, millet and sorghum amounts to some 146 000 tonnes.

The programme of restructuring of the cereal market, which organizes our food security, is a commitment of the Malian Government.

But we have to be prepared to accept its limits and the need to modernize it.

Honourable Ministers,
Mr Director-General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Africa is not condemned by fate to suffer problems of food security.

Other continents have faced and risen to the same challenge through commitment and purposeful agricultural policy.

Africa should also have great ambitions for its agriculture. It has huge potential but this is largely underexploited.

Mali is a perfect example of this paradox. We have significant resources in agricultural land, especially in the central delta of the Niger extending from Djénné to Tombouctou and covering some 35 000 km2.

The Niger delta is one of the world's largest floodplains.

It is West Africa's largest arable wetland and Africa's second largest after the Okavango delta in Botswana.

Nor do we lack water, for our country is drained by the two largest rivers of West Africa running over more than 2 400 km.

Does a country that has such assets, land and water, the two fundamentals for agriculture, have the right to be hungry?

Of course not!

We must therefore look at our production systems which are largely dependent on the availability and distribution of rainwater, which places our crops in a state of constant vulnerability.

Looking closely at the situation, we only option is to address the twin challenge of production and productivity on the one hand, and global trade and competitiveness on the other.

We can act on production and productivity through a policy of agricultural modernization that plays on the factors of success that are:

- control of water;

- land-use planning;

- use of fertilizer;

- plant protection; and

- promotion of agricultural research and technological innovation.

The conference of Bamako will be looking at these central planks of any "Green Revolution".

Your conclusions will undoubtedly be a source of inspiration to governments.

Mr Director-General,
Honourable Ministers,

Mali has resolved to no longer leave its fate to the vagaries of the weather.

With this in mind, we have embarked on a vast programme of land-use planning covering more than 50 000 hectares under partial or total irrigation.

At the same time, the Government has initiated a Law on Agricultural Policy that was formulated together with all rural players and their representative organizations.

This Law on Agricultural Policy aims to provide the tools and guarantees that are needed for the emergence of a modern agricultural sector that is focused on high production and optimal productivity.

The Law on Agricultural Policy is a global vision of rural development and covers the entire primary sector in scope.

The development and optimization of animal and fishery production are also widely considered.

The same applies to the management of forestry and wildlife resources and to the status of the operator who is a key determinant of the success of the envisaged reforms.

It is our fervent hope that the implementation of such a stimulative and attractive framework will spur a more substantial mobilization of private investment for the development of agriculture as a whole, from production to processing.

The contribution of the private sector will be a valuable complement to the efforts of the State.

I am pleased to point out that Mali devotes 14 percent of its budgetary resources to agriculture, and thus exceeds the 10 percent threshold set in the Maputo Declaration, on the initiative of the African Union.

It is the convergence of all these actions that will lead our country to food sovereignty and to its food security component.

This will also enable us to offer better employment prospects to the rural young who – and this can never be said enough – are the segment of our youth that is most seriously affected by unemployment and underemployment.

Honourable Ministers,

Mr Director-General,

This 24th Regional Conference provides us with an ideal opportunity to thank FAO for all the assistance it has given to Mali in emergency situations and for its support to the process of agricultural change.

The Organization, which has just celebrated its 60th anniversary, can be proud of its commitment in many areas, including:

- Food security,

- The fight against pests of all sorts and transboundary animal diseases,

- The regulation of trade in pesticides and other reputedly dangerous chemical substances,

- The promotion of South-South cooperation.

Dr Jacques Diouf has undeniably brought his personal touch to this endeavour.

I wish to reassure him of Mali's support for the implementation of the FAO reforms he has initiated, aimed at ensuring that the Organization operates more efficiently, that local expertise is put to the best possible use and that the provision of services is as close to our countries as possible.

On this note of confidence in FAO and in African agriculture, I wish all participants every success in their work and an excellent stay in Mali.

Thank you for your kind attention.



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