FAO’s Regional Conference for Africa opens
Experts and officials from some 53 countries meet in Mali as food shortages continue in many African countries
30 January 2006, Bamako, Mali – Amid continued threats to Africa’s food security, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) convened the 24th Regional Conference for Africa today. The Conference will examine issues as wide-ranging as African seeds and biotechnology, agrarian reform, how to enhance the competitiveness of agriculture and natural resources management in a globalized and liberalized world, and ways to reduce the growing number of fires that endanger agriculture production.
Conference documents have noted that “the economic situation in sub-Saharan Africa remains a serious cause for concern in many respects” and call for “urgent action” to implement strategies that would enhance access to agricultural support services and facilities such as credit provision and farm mechanization services technology.
Integrated seed development programme needed
Good quality seeds are hardly available to farmers, hence the need for Africa to put in place a more robust seed sector development strategy that will guarantee access by farmers to quality seeds.
FAO has therefore proposed an integrated Seed System Development Programme for Africa to provide a strategic approach to the comprehensive development of the seed sector, taking into account regional and country-level priorities.
GMOs remain a source of concern
One of the many food safety concerns in Africa, according to papers prepared for the Conference, is genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “It has been widely acknowledged that modern biotechnology, if appropriately developed, could offer new and broad potential for contributing to food security. At the same time the speed of genetic change made possible by genetic engineering may represent a new potential impact on the biosphere. These developments, while offering to extend progress in food security, have posed concerns, both real and perceived, about the safety of these technologies, especially in Africa, where legislation on biotechnology and GMOs is lacking and few countries have any regulatory framework concerning GMOs,” says one report.
Forest fires causing soil and water problems
The continuing need to combat wildfires that destroy forests and inhibit their natural renewal will also be a major topic at the Conference. Foresters recognize that wildfire in Africa often results from legitimate traditional agricultural and livestock management practices, which are being applied with increasing intensity to meet growing food security needs. According to FAO, the frequency and severity of fires is of concern to both foresters and farmers as the cumulative effect of pasture impoverishment, long-term soil fertility decline, impaired water catchment functions and the use of crop and animal residues as fuelwood substitutes can be summed up in one word – desertification.
The Regional Conference for Africa will also consider the plan put forward by Director-General Jacques Diouf and approved in November 2005 by the Organization’s governing Conference of 190 countries authorizing implementation of the reform proposals related to the decentralization of FAO’s structure in sub-Saharan Africa, where country-level capacities will be strengthened through the establishment of additional national professional officer posts and greater delegation of authority to FAO Country Representatives.
Avian influenza has African countries worried
The meeting will also consider the threat of avian flu and the preparedness to combat it as well as the response to a possible outbreak.
During the period, a one-day meeting of the African Union Ministers of Agriculture is being held in Bamako to discuss the food security situation on the continent and the implementation of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), and especially the tracking of the commitment to increase investment in the agriculture sector. A three-day NGO/CSO Consultation funded by the Italian government is taking place immediately prior to the Regional Conference.
The FAO Regional Conference meets every two years and is attended by Ministers of Agriculture and other top officials from some 53 countries in Africa.
Paul Fouda Onambele
Regional Information Officer, FAO
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