From the podium

From the podium

Mr Sindiso N. Ngwenya (Assistant Secretary General of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa - COMESA)

It is a singular honour and privilege for me to make a statement at this World Food Summit: five years later which has been convened by FAO to review progress made in implementing the 1996 Rome Declaration and the World Food Summit Plan of Action. May I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Mr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO for his tireless crusade against chronic hunger that results in the untimely and unnecessary death of millions of the poor in developing countries.

COMESA Member States are indeed indebted to the support by FAO to national and regional programmes for food security and agricultural development. It is against this background, that the COMESA Secretariat will collaborate with FAO, facilitate and coordinate the implementation by its Member States of national and inter-regional programmes and investment projects guided by the comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (AADP) prepared under the auspices of NEPAD.

It is inconceivable that at the turn of the new Millennium, millions of people in developing countries continue to daily starve to death due to lack of food. It is, indeed, a severe indictment of failures in implementing policies and programmes for sustainable agricultural production on the basis of the use of appropriate technologies. The current food crisis facing African countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, should be analyzed within the context of changes in the development paradigm. It is not my intention to pass judgement on the efficacy of the different paradigms that at any given period in history become dominant ideologies. Suffice it to point out that in the 1970s and early 1980s, the number of malnourished children was negligible. This was because the State made massive investments in institutional and human capacity-building. The same cannot, however, be said of the 1990s when the number of chronically-hungry people and malnourished children has considerably increased in most countries. This can largely be explained by a dramatic fall, since then of investment, in both the "hardware" and the "software" in agriculture and rural development. This has made some commentators conclude that endemic poverty and malnutrition in rural areas are due to reduced investment in agriculture in the form of production capital, agricultural extension services, research, irrigation and other infrastructure. This trend must be reversed.

It is now widely accepted that certain policy decisions and social changes affect food security either positively or negatively. These policy changes can occur at two levels. Firstly, appropriate and sound policies in each country are a necessary condition for improvements of the food security situation. However, policies on their own without the required investments are unlikely to produce the desired results of enhanced food security. Hence, there is an urgent need for increased resource allocations from national budgets for investment in agriculture if the goal of the World Food Summit Plan of Action is to be attained. Hence, there is also the need to create a conducive environment for private sector investment in agriculture. At the regional level, integration through trade development and functional cooperation provide new opportunities. Trade among neighbours can foster economic growth, augment domestic food supplies to meet consumption needs, and reduce overall food supply variability, thus contributing to enhanced food security.

At the global level, agricultural policies pursued by the developed countries directly affect the impact of domestic policies in developing countries. The case in point is the liberalization in trade that developed countries advocate for all sectors, but not agriculture. It is paradoxical that most Governments in developed countries are unwilling to turn food production over to the forces of the free market. They intervene in agriculture in countless ways to promote, protect and subsidize domestic production and to reduce dependence on foreign suppliers. This has resulted in structural distortions in world food production, where developing countries have been barred from exploiting their comparative advantages and thus have been unable to equitably participate in the world market. Subsidies and domestic support measures in developed countries have undermined agricultural production in COMESA countries, while simultaneously compelling these countries to open up their borders and liberalise their economies as donor pre-conditions.

COMESA and FAO have had a long-standing and very fruitful cooperation. As early as 1992, FAO provided assistance to COMESA in the field of food security and agricultural development. From 1999 to 2001, FAO also provided COMESA with technical support in the area of fish quality assurance. In January of this year, FAO approved a Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) project to assist COMESA in reviewing the Member States' agricultural policies and strategies and in assessing their implications for the promotion of regional trade and cooperation. In the framework of this project, FAO is also supporting COMESA in the development of a regional programme for food security. The purpose of this programme will be to crate an enabling environment for increased agricultural trade and food security in the region through market integration, institutional capacity-strengthening, consumer protection and implementation of special measures to avoid exclusion of weaker groups from the benefits of increased trade.

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