From the podium

From the podium

Mr Omar Kabbaj (President of the African Development Bank - ADB)

Thank you Mr Chairman, Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government, Your Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Your Excellencies, Heads of Diplomatic Missions, distinguished participants.

It is an honour and a pleasure for me to address this unique gathering that has been called to assess the progress we have made since the historic World Food Summit of 1996, and to re-dedicate ourselves to the noble goals set at that Summit. I would first like to thank the Food and Agriculture Organization and its Director-General, Mr Jacques Diouf, for this important and remarkable initiative. I also wish to express my appreciation to him for inviting us to share with you our thoughts on the problems of hunger and malnutrition in our world and, in particular, in Africa.

At the 1996 World Food Summit, the leaders of the world agreed that the conditions of poverty and hunger that affected nearly a billion people at the time were unacceptable and that the world needed to take urgent action to change them. Although the international community, in its various declarations, has recognized the right to adequate nourishment as a basic human right – and although the 1996 World Food Summit clearly laid out the goals and the means for achieving it – we are forced to acknowledge that at the beginning of the Twenty-first Century, the world is still far from achieving this objective.

The food security situation in Africa is particularly disturbing. Since the World Food Summit of 1996, the number of people on the continent who are undernourished has actually increased. It is now estimated that close to 200 million people, or 34 percent of the population, fall in this category. This compares to 10 percent in East Asia and 11 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. A number of factors have conspired to bring about this situation. The current crisis we are witnessing in Southern Africa vividly illustrates the structural problems faced by many of our countries. These include drought, floods, political conflicts, wars, and poor systems of governance and inappropriate policies. These have been compounded by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, adverse weather conditions, land degradation and poor management of natural resources.

The international community will need to continue to work closely and collaboratively to address the structural problems that lie behind the problem of food insecurity in many of our countries. Permit me, in this regard, to say a few words on the actions that the African Development Bank is taking to promote agricultural and rural development and food security on the continent.

As affirmed in its 1999 Vision Statement, poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth are at present the overarching objectives of all Bank activities. Given that the vast majority of the poor in Africa make their livelihoods in the rural sector, agricultural and rural development – along with investments in the social sectors such as education and health – have been given the highest priorities in our operations in the recent past. Since the 1996 World Food Summit, approvals for these sectors have, for example, reached 2.6 billion dollars or 28 percent of total Bank Group approvals over this period.

The Bank's interventions in these sectors aim to improve food security and reduce poverty by not only helping improve the productivity of farmers – through the introduction of new technologies – but also improving rural conditions to enable rural producers to increase their incomes. A central focus of our operations has thus been improving the state of rural infrastructure such as roads, including feeder roads, market centres and storage facilities, rural water supply and rural electrification. This is required to improve market access for farmers and to enable effective participation of the private sector in food production.

The Bank has also adopted participatory approaches, both in the design and implementation of its projects and programmes, to ensure that its interventions are sustained in the long run. Indeed, in our rural development projects, we foster a community-based and community-driven approach to development; and as part of this process, we have supported the decentralization of decision-making processes to enable rural communities to have a real say in matters that affect their livelihoods. In addition, the Bank has sought to address the critical gaps occasioned by the lack of capacity, especially for producers and traders of food and agricultural products and their organizations.

The Bank is keenly aware of the need for close cooperation with our development partners to enable all of us to make a significant impact in improving food security on our continent. In this regard, an important area of cooperation is the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS). This pilot programme aims at removing the specific constraints that have been identified as preventing the attainment of food security. It is now being implemented in eight African countries and is jointly financed by the ADB, FAO and other donors. The Bank has provided US$ eight million for these pilot programmes and we are monitoring its progress closely to learn the lessons that could usefully be replicated in other countries.

In looking ahead, it is clear that many important issues will need to be tackled to allow the world to reach the goal of halving the number of hungry people by 2015. Although some encouraging steps have been taken, there is a need to intensify our efforts in many countries – particularly in Africa – as these will face serious challenges in meeting this goal. These include, among others, increasing productivity through the adoption of new technologies and ensuring appropriate credit and land tenure systems that would provide access to all farmers, especially women.

Africa's efforts at poverty reduction and food security will need to be supported by the international community if they are to succeed. In particular, it is essential that the industrialized countries reverse the decline in official development assistance and also remove the subsidies and tariffs that stand in the way of increased agricultural exports. In this regard, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) initiative has proposed a new partnership with the donor community-based on shared principles and mutual accountability to relaunch and put on a secure basis Africa's future development efforts. This initiative deserves the full support of the international community.

In closing, let me state that while the challenges of improving food security and reducing hunger appear formidable, they are not insurmountable. The world has the knowledge and resources to halve the number of hungry people by 2015. What is required is the will to work jointly and in partnership to achieve this goal. We, at the African Development Bank, stand ready to work with our regional and non-regional partners to make this goal a reality for Africa.

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