From the podium

From the podium


His Excellency Yoweri K. Museveni (President of the Republic of Uganda)

In November 1996, we met here in Rome and pledged our political commitment "to achieving food security for all and to an ongoing effort to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level, not later than 2015." That is what we said in 1996.

However, information to date assembled and analysed by the Food and Agriculture Organization indicates that the estimated average annual reduction by eight million in the number of undernourished people in the world, which was achieved during much of the 1990's, is far below the average rate of 20 million people per year if the 2015 target is to be reached.

Globally, we have not succeeded in this important moral and social obligation. There are more than 800 million chronically hungry people and 160 million malnourished children under the age of five worldwide. Billions of people suffer from illnesses related to food insecurity while millions of others suffer from famine as a result of natural disasters and conflicts. These numbers must be reduced and we all have to contribute to this critical task.

Over 1.1 billion people in the developing world – 30 percent of the population of the whole world – live in absolute poverty, with incomes equivalent to a dollar or less a day per person. Every second person in sub-Saharan Africa is absolutely poor. Unless concerted action is taken, poverty will increase markedly in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 75 percent of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa are rural people, obtaining livelihoods from agricultural activities or from non-farm activities that depend mostly on agriculture.

There are only two ways in which food can be produced. Either you produce food for subsistence or you produce food for the market. There is a third method which I forgot. This was the one used by Jesus when he turned water into wine. That one I forgot to include. Otherwise, human beings produce food either for subsistence or for market.

In Uganda, for the last 9 000 years, people have been producing crops for subsistence. There is nothing new. We have been producing crops for subsistence for the last 9 000 years. For the last 7 000 years, the Ugandans have been looking after livestock for the same purpose of subsistence. The problem with this mode of production is that you cannot meet your other needs, even if you produce for your food subsistence. You cannot get enough money to educate your children. You cannot get enough money to care for your health, clothing, housing, etc. That is why the youth gravitate from the rural areas to the towns, or even migrate to the countries of the north and the west, to Europe and America. Therefore, in the modern context the only sustainable way of producing food is to produce food for the market and then finance all of your other needs. That brings the question of where that market is to be found.

Unless significant and fundamental changes occur in our countries, disparities in income levels and economic growth rates are likely to continue and to lead to social unrest. However, there is considerable opportunity to accelerate the income growth rates in the slow-growing countries, especially those of Sub-Saharan Africa, and to raise per capita incomes.

Uganda is one of the nine African countries that is food sufficient. We not only produce enough food for ourselves, we also have plenty for export. Uganda produces 1.1 million metric tonnes of maize per annum, although we do not eat much of that maize, we eat other foods of which we have plenty. We sell, each year, approximately 33 000 metric tonnes of maize to the World Food Programme for distribution as relief in other parts of Africa. We are selling about 61 000 metric tonnes of maize in the region. We have surplus milk, a lot of bananas, sugar and many other types of food.

Food shortages in this world are not due to lack of technology. Many countries, including Uganda, have the technology to produce high yielding seeds for many crops and improved breeding stock for many varieties of livestock. We can also get what we do not have from other countries, such as India and South Africa.

The main causes of food shortages in the world are really three: wars; protectionism in agricultural products in Europe, the United States of America, China, India and Japan; and protectionism in value-added products on the part of the same countries which I have named above. The impact of war on agricultural and other forms of production does not need elaboration. It is the other two causes that need a little explanation. The structure of many countries in Africa is such that the majority of people live in the rural areas. Only a minority lives in the towns. In Uganda, the figures are: 85 percent of the people live in the rural areas and 15 percent in the urban areas. The 85 percent in the rural areas cannot buy from each other because they produce the same products. The 15 percent who live in the towns are not enough to absorb the products of the countryside.

Uganda, for instance, produces 800 million litres of milk per annum. Only 22 million litres are consumed in towns per year at a rate of 34 litres per person per annum. The regional market is not well organized because of wars, lingering tariff barriers – although this is being addressed – and poor infrastructure. The only well organized and big markets are the ones in Europe, the United States of America, Japan, India, China, etc. It is these that have been closed to African products, agricultural or value-added. It is good that the United States of America promulgated the African Growth Opportunity Act Law (AGOA Law), a law which was passed by the United States of America recently. The European Union has also adopted the Everything but Arms (EBA) policy vis--vis black Africa. China has also allowed our value-added coffee into their market for the first time.

By blocking value-added products, our partners in the world kill the following opportunities: ability to earn more foreign currency, employment, enhancing the purchasing power of the population, expanding the tax base for the governments of Africa and the chance to transform African societies from the backward, pre-industrial states – in which they are now – to modern ones by building a middle class and a skilled working class.

Therefore, let us stop beating about the bush. The most fundamental problems are not the weather, are not the lack of improved seeds, are not the lack of education and are not the lack of infrastructure. The fundamental problems are three: wars; protectionism against agricultural products; and protectionism against value-added products. All the others are problems but they are not as subversive of global development as the above three.

There is, for instance, the problem that I noticed in some of the African countries. The problem of interfering in the marketing of crops. This is, indeed, a problem in the short run for those countries. However, in the end, this cannot be the most basic problem. Even if those countries removed all the bottlenecks and production picked up as it has done in Uganda, they would then face the real problem: where do you sell what you produce?

Africa needs to get rid of wars. She needs to get rid of the inter-state trade barriers. Nevertheless, as of now, this would not maximize trade for Africa. This is because the total purchasing power of Africa is only US$ 550 billion while that of the United States of America is US$ 11 trillion. Where then are the Christian values of loving your neighbour as you love yourself? Even the enlightened self-interest of these countries dictates that enhanced purchasing power of the whole population of the world – six billion of them – would be better for business all round. As Mr Diouf said, the empowered poor would buy more from advanced countries of the world. It would be a win-win situation.

The African countries, currently organized under NEPAD, need to send an unequivocal message to our partners. Traffic rules indicate that you either drive on the left or you drive on the right. You cannot afford not to keep either left or right. You get a collision. Similarly, either there is an equitable global framework or there is none. In which case, Africa would form its own block and exclude others. We have enough numbers of people and resources to do that. We may, at present, not have crystallized enough political will; however, this is a curable problem.

I have pointed out before that globalization is not new for Africa. Africa was globalized long ago with the slave trade and colonialism. The new globalization we should talk about should be mutually beneficial globalization, not the old parasitism or the endless tantalizing of poor countries.

Therefore, the Uganda delegation wishes to express a reservation in supporting the Declaration which was adopted this morning because it does not make trade access as pre-eminent as we would have liked it to be. Paragraph 10 in the Declaration is welcome but it is not singled out as the pre-eminent right course of action.

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