African water meeting seeks to harmonize water for food and ecosystems
Food security and poverty reduction are serious concerns
4 November 2004, Addis Ababa/Rome -- New and growing demands for sustainable use of natural resources are having a serious impact on agriculture, as the sector struggles to feed a growing world population, according to Louise Fresco, Assistant Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Speaking at the opening session of a major pan-African conference on water for food and ecosystems, Ms Fresco said: "The history of agriculture is characterized by a progressive and increasing control of the biological processes for the sake of increased food production."
Cost of meeting global food needs
In the 20th century this enabled the world to meet the food demands of a world population that more than tripled, primarily through the optimization of food production. "However," Ms Fresco said, "this achievement has not been realized without its costs. The advancements in agriculture are also associated with the encroachment on natural ecosystems; in particular with regard to its use and pollution of available fresh water resources."
According to Ms. Fresco, the central challenge facing agriculture in the 21st century is "to offer each human being enough food, enough opportunity for development and enough environmental services."
Unlocking Africa's agricultural potential
Focusing on Africa, she said that food security and poverty reduction clearly remain immediate and persistent concerns. "Recent research shows that growth in agriculture is the most beneficial for the poor, of all economic sectors."
She said that for Africa, this means that we need "to continue to invest in unlocking the potential of its diversified agricultural systems - in rainfed agriculture, irrigation and mixed systems."
The mobilization of water resources for agriculture in Africa is still well below the level in other regions, according to Ms. Fresco. With 5 percent of water used of total renewable water resources in Africa, compared with 20 percent for Asia; and 7 percent of total arable land being irrigated in Africa, compared to 42 percent in South-Asia and 36 percent in East and South-East Asia. "We therefore still have a great potential and opportunity to address the needs of Africa in food, poverty reduction and ecosystems."
Balancing the needs of the 21st Century
Ms Fresco urged African countries to develop water resources in an integrated manner for multiple services - from agro-forestry to irrigation to the joint management of aquatic ecosystems. "Agriculture in the 21st Century needs to harmonize the needs for food and ecosystems through sustainable water management."
The Addis Ababa water conference was jointly organized by the governments of Ethiopia and the Netherlands, the African Union and FAO, to study promising approaches and actions in integrated water resource management. The results of the conference will be presented at the International Conference on Water for Food and Ecosystems, which will take place 31 January through 5 February 2005 in The Hague, which in turn will provide an input to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-13).
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Paul Fouda Onambele
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