Diversification and new markets for better food security in West Africa
With Italian support, FAO launches projects in five of the world’s poorest countries
Rome, 21 January 2008 – A series of projects, launched as part of the FAO Trust Fund for Food Security, will aim to revive agricultural output and create new marketing opportunities for producers in five African countries. This new initiative is financed by a $10 million contribution from the Italian Government.
The project signing ceremony was attended by the Director-General of the Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development, Alain Economides, as well as Ambassador Romualdo Bettini, Head of Italy's Permant Representation to the Rome-based UN agencies. In 2007, Italy has become FAO's biggest bilateral donor, contributing US$ 68 million to the fight against food insecurity in the world.
The countries targeted for support are: Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone. Aside from their close proximity to one another, they have another feature in common – all of them suffer from alarming levels of poverty and malnutrition. In some cases, up to 70 percent of the population is living below the poverty line.
Rebuilding after years of civil strife
Two of these countries are still reeling from the effects of civil war (lasting 11 years in Sierra Leone and 14 in Liberia) and are slowly beginning the arduous task of reconstruction. All basic infrastructure such as schools, roads and hospitals have been badly damaged or destroyed. Compounding the problem are a range of other factors, including political instability, crushing foreign debt and lack of educational opportunities.
In Mali, the underlying causes of the difficult situation lie not in conflicts but in a general weakening of the country’s economy. Poor harvests, inadequate rainfall and increasing desertification have all taken a heavy toll in a country where 95 percent of agriculture is rainfed.
All five countries have a striking demographic statistic in common: the average age of the population is extremely low. In Mali and Senegal, 47 percent of the inhabitants is under 15; in Sierra Leone, 42 percent is under 15 and 75 percent is under 35.
Developed with national governments
“These projects target food insecurity, taking into account the complex nature of its causes and offering a variety of options for overcoming it," said FAO Assistant Director-General José María Sumpsi, of the Agency’s Technical Cooperation Department. “Priorities have been identified together with national governments.”
In all five countries, the projects focus on agriculture as a major tool for reducing poverty and increasing food security. But they also recognize that boosting output alone is not enough, and that any strategy must include initiatives to improve the commercialization of products.
One key element in each project will be training and apprenticeship activities for local producers’ associations, delivered via farmer field schools. These will teach farmers how to store and conserve products so that they are not forced to sell all their crops straight after harvest.
“In countries where between 40 and 50 percent of the adult population has never been to school, farmers will learn more efficient agricultural practices, but also how to set up a small enterprise, how to make the most of the few resources they have available and how to produce value-added agricultural products for the market,” said Kevin Gallagher, a senior FAO expert for programme development.
The projects will also promote crop diversification to avoid over-reliance on a single commodity. In Guinea Bissau, where cashew nuts account for 90 percent of exports, a recent price collapse on international markets has severely damaged the national economy.
Overall, the Italian Government has pledged to contribute $100 million to the FAO Trust Fund for Food Security, $75.7 million of which has already been paid. To date, 21 agricultural development projects have been implemented: 14 in Africa, two in the Middle East, one in Central Asia, one in Eastern Europe and three in the Caribbean and Pacific regions.
This new initiative in West Africa follows a number of other FAO/Italy projects already under way in Central and East Africa (Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda) and in Southern Africa (Malawi and Zambia).
Media Relations, FAO
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