3 July 2003, Maputo -- UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf, Wednesday called on African leaders to clearly indicate the key role of agriculture in the economic development and the reduction of poverty and food insecurity in their countries, by giving greater priority and allocating adequate resources to the sector.

Dr. Diouf's remarks were made at a conference of Ministers of Agriculture of the African Union to discuss the agricultural programmes of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique opened the conference, which was also attended by the Interim Chairman of the Commission of the African Union, Mr. Amara Essy.

"There is now a growing recognition of the key role that the agriculture sector must play in economic development and poverty reduction and the need to reverse trends in resource allocations to agriculture," Dr. Diouf said. He urged Africa and NEPAD to take advantage of this changed environment by devoting more of their national budgets to agriculture.

Agriculture supports 70 percent of the people of Africa and is the leading sector of the African economies, according to Dr. Diouf. But African agriculture has fallen on hard times, with production and productivity falling substantially in recent years. The average cereal yield in Africa as a whole is only about one third of the average yield in Asia and less than half of the yield in Latin America.

"Approximately 200 million people, one third of the population of Africa, are chronically undernourished," Dr. Diouf said. "Around 40 million people are currently facing food emergencies caused by natural and man-made disasters. In addition, FAO estimates that, in sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS has already killed around 7 million agricultural workers since 1985 and that 16 million more may die before 2020."

Africa uses only 1.6 percent of its available water compared to 14 percent in Asia. As a result, only 3.8 percent of arable land in sub-Saharan Africa is irrigated compared to 14 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean and 40 percent in Asia.

"There is a need for a comprehensive programme, focusing on water harvesting and conservation and efficient use, irrigation and drainage," said Dr. Diouf. "Such a programme would generate substantial and sustainable increases in farm production as well as reduce the vulnerability of rural communities to future crises."

Dr. Diouf also said that Africa lacks modern farm inputs such as high yielding seed varieties, vaccines, fertilizers, and storage and processing facilities are non-existent or inadequate. He said the continent's rural infrastructure is "grossly insufficient."

To stem the continuing decline of Africa's agricultural sector, Dr. Diouf called for the swift implementation of NEPAD's Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) by the continent's agriculture ministers.

The CAADP calls for action in agriculture under four pillars: investment in water control and land management, expansion of rural infrastructure such as roads and storage facilities, direct action to increase food supply through competitive production and the provision of safety nets for vulnerable groups and support to science and adoption of technologies for long-term productivity.

Dr. Diouf compared the $19.3 billion annual cost of implementing the programme to the $19.6 billion Africa spends annually, based on 2000-2001 figures, to import agricultural products.

John Riddle
FAO Information Officer
+36 06 570 53259