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Summary of proceedings

Country statements and general debate on the food and agriculture situation in Africa
Report on FAO activities in the region 1990-91
FAO medium-term plan 1994-99: Regional dimensions
Implementation of the programme of action of the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development
Sustainable agriculture and environment

Country statements and general debate on the food and agriculture situation in Africa

20. Country statements were presented by Delegates from the folowing 23 countries (in order of presentation): Ethiopia, Mauritius, Togo, Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire, Malawi, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Senegal, Mali, Botswana, Niger, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Ghana, Namibia, Benin, Angola, Morocco, Congo and Mauritania. The country statements of the delegation of the Republic of Cape Verde and Algeria were filed with the Regional Conference. The Conference also listened to statements by observers from the Organization of African Unity, the African National Congress and by the representative of the United Nations.

21. Mrs Catherine Bertini, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), briefed the Conference on the activities of the WFP most of which contributed to the protection of the environment and increased food and agricultural production in Africa in addition to providing emergency food relief. The Executive Director informed the Conference that Africa received about forty percent of WFP resources.

22. In his brief address, the Independent Chairman of the FAO Council, Mr Antoine Saintraint, recalled the role and functions of FAO. He underlined the interdependence of countries and the fundamental need for cooperation and coordination among UN institutions and other development agencies to reinforce efficiency in project implementation.

23. The Conference expressed appreciation for Africa's large share in the FAO budgetary allocation and paid tribute to the Director-General for his untiring efforts in bringing the critical economic situation in the Region to the attention of the international community. It was recalled that FAO, at both local and national levels, carried out intensive programmes over a wide range of activities in the fields of agriculture, and in the fishery and forestry sectors, including support for institution building inasmuch as resources permitted. The Conference appreciated that,, environmental concerns had recently become a major focus of the Organization's programme in Africa. It also appreciated the promotion of technical cooperation among African countries, as well as the establishment of technical cooperation networks.

24. The Conference regretted that the implementation of the Organization's programme of work was being hamstrung by budgetary shortfalls and instability. The Conference, therefore, appealed to all Member Nations who had not yet paid their assessed statutory contributions for the current year, including arrears, to honour their obligations to the Organization. In particular, it recalled the compelling need for Member Nations in arrears to meet their obligations so that the Programme of Work and Budget approved by the Twenty-sixth Session of the Conference of FAO in 1991 could be fully implemented.

25. Delegations reported on their countries' ongoing policies, programmes and strategies aimed at improving overall agricultural and socio-economic development. The efforts made involved management of natural resources and the disengagement of the state from some major economic activities in favour of the private sector. Delegations also reported on their active preparations for the forthcoming International Conference on Nutrition (ICN) to be held in Rome in early December 1992. The importance of the Conference in addressing nutritional and diet-related problems, especially among the poor and other vulnerable groups, was stressed.

26. The Conference indicated that the problem of environmental degradation was crucial since past development initiatives, especially food production and related activities, had failed to address the issue firmly. The Conference acknowledged that as the natural resource base was the principal source of productive activities, the increasing degradation of arable and rangelands in many parts of Africa was posing a very serious ecological threat.

27. Delegations reported on a variety of environmental deteriorations in their countries. Delegates from Eastern and Southern Africa reported that the sub-region was suffering from the severest drought in living memory. The drought had had devastating consequences for both human, livestock and wildlife population primarily due to acute shortfalls in food production and there had been widespread hunger, malnutrition, outright famine and abject poverty. The sub-region which used to enjoy a reasonable self-sufficiency in food supply was relying on emergency food aid. The Conference appreciated relief and other forms of assistance being provided by the international community and appealed for more aid to mitigate the human suffering through long-term development programmes. It expressed appreciation for FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) which had been instrumental in alerting the international community to the plight of the sub-region. The Conference appealed to the Director-General to assist Member Nations in developing their water resources, especially as regarded the expansion in irrigation to compensate for variations in weather conditions. The Conference also appealed to the Director-General of FAO to provide support to Member Nations of the Region in strengthening their institutional capacity regarding Early Warning Programmes.

28. The Sahel sub-region which had been afflicted by recurrent drought in the 1970's and 1980's, generally enjoyed relatively good weather conditions, and sporadic drought was only experienced in a few areas. However, delegations from the sub-region expressed concern with the resurgence of insect pests, especially locusts. The Conference, therefore, appealed to the Director-General to assist in the reactivation of OCLALAV. Despite some of these environmental problems, one Member Nation in the sub-region reported a bumper harvest of millet in 1991 and was able to export the cereal.

29. The Conference expressed concern with the adverse weather conditions in the eastern, southern and the Sahel sub-regions, and with deforestation in the forest-belt. Concern was expressed by several delegations about the combined effects of environmental stress which, apart from degrading the resource base, was encouraging a large-scale drift of young people from rural to urban centres to escape increasing rural poverty.

30. Many delegations also referred to the dual effects of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) which many countries were implementing with the support of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. While monetary, fiscal, trade and exchange rate policies being implemented under SAP had improved the incentives, eliminated distortions in the economies and had potential beneficial effects on the performance of the agricultural sector, the benefits had been outweighed by the economic and social costs of adjustment. Delegations recalled that protection of the environment, for instance, would require the adoption of improved technological packages using technical and productive inputs such as organic and mineral fertilizers, insecticide and improved seeds. The Conference regretted that as the sharp increase in the imported input prices had not been matched by a corresponding increase in output prices, there had been a steep decline in relative profitability of input use. The Conference therefore regretted that the removal of fiscal incentives (subsidies) from these input prices, and budgetary reduction would have deleterious effects on the performance of the agricultural sector.

31. The Conference noted that the use of these inputs required a well-organized system of financial intermediation in rural areas with sufficient resources (agricultural credit). However, the Conference regretted that the prohibitively high interest rates had increased the cost of borrowing beyond the means of small-scale farmers.

32. The Conference, therefore, requested the Director-General to continue to intensify FAO studies on the contractionary effects of some measures being implemented under SAP, especially as regarded their effects on food security. Furthermore, many delegations requested the FAO to assist Member Nations of the Region in formulating their agricultural policies under SAP framework.

33. Commenting on the organization of the Regional Conference, the Conference urged FAO to reintroduce the practice of convening the Technical Committee before the Plenary Session to permit in-depth analysis of issues before the Conference. The Conference felt that the two meetings could still be held within a week - devoting three days to the Technical Committee proceedings and two to the Plenary Session.

Report on FAO activities in the region 1990-91

34. The Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa introduced this Agenda item. 1 He briefly described the adverse political and economic situation under which the agricultural sector's performance had to be evaluated in the Region.

1 ARC/92/2

35. He stressed that despite some improvements during the biennium, the food and agriculture situation in the Region continued to face such serious problems as environmental degradation, deforestation and unfavourable climatic conditions. Therefore, the Region's food self-sufficiency rate did not register appreciable and durable improvement.

36. FAO continued to give high priority to the Region's agricultural and rural development, allocating more than half of its limited resources to Africa. Although the Organization's capacity to respond to the needs of the African farmer was further eroded during the biennium by persistent financial constraints, FAO had endeavoured to support Member Governments' efforts in such priority areas as management and conservation of land and water resources, policy analysis and advice in key sectors, strengthening of agricultural research capacity at national and regional levels, promotion of rural development including the enhancement of women's role in rural activities, assessment of the nutritional impact of agricultural policies and improvement of the nutritional status of the rural population. Forestry had also received attention, in particular afforestation for fuelwood and multi-purpose management of vegetation cover in dryland areas. In fisheries, action had been taken according to the strategy adopted by the World Fisheries Conference, and fish consumption in human nutrition was promoted.

37. The Regional Representative then summarized FAO activities in the Region during the biennium under the Regular Programme, Field Programme and Special Action Programmes. He emphasized that cooperation between FAO and the regional and sub-regional inter-governmental organizations, as well as with non-governmental organizations, had been strengthened during the past biennium and he made particular reference to efforts in promoting technical and economic cooperation among developing countries.

38. The Conference expressed appreciation for the wide range of programmes being implemented in the Region, but regretted that continued financial shortfalls and instability were hampering the expansion of urgently-needed programmes. It repeated its appeal for assessed contributions to FAO to be paid promptly. The Conference re-echoed its recommendations made during past Regional Conferences for the Regional Office for Africa to be strengthened, provided with adequate financial resources, and delegated with sufficient authority to promote economic and technical cooperation among African countries especially as regarded common resources shared by several countries, pests and disease control, and such special programmes as the International Scheme for the Conservation and Rehabilitation of African Lands.

FAO medium-term plan 1994-99: Regional dimensions

39. The Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa also introduced this item. 2 He recalled the severe problems faced by the Africa Region in meeting its economic and social development objectives. He emphasized the daunting challenges which the agricultural scene throughout the Region was facing, especially as regarded soil fertility depletion, erratic rainfall and recurrent drought, underdeveloped irrigation potentials, poor animal husbandry practices, and low priority and inadequate resource allocations to the fisheries sector. Desertification in semi-arid and sub-humid lands and the destruction of tropical forests also remained two major problems facing the Region.

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40. Rural areas were still beset by problems of unemployment, inadequate education, poor social services and nutritional status. Policy formulation and planning in all the sectors were hampered by the general lack of reliable data, inadequate knowledge of traditional farming systems and insufficient manpower training. In concluding his introduction, the Regional Representative informed the Conference that the Medium-Term Plan's main focus would be to support the efforts of African Member Nations in addressing these issues globally through environmental and resource management activities that promoted sustainable development objectives. In this connection research capacities would be upgraded to meet the needs of small-scale farmers while reconciling conservation and rehabilitation goals. The Organization of African Unity (OAU), regional and sub-regional economic groupings and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) would continue to be major partners in this endeavour.

Implementation of the programme of action of the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development

41. In presenting this agenda item 3, the Senior Officer (Production Systems) traced the history of WCARRD whose origins dated back to the pervasive and persistent deterioration in the conditions of life of rural population throughout the developing world since the 1960s. Since then, Africa had emerged as the continent with the worst symptoms of economic crisis, characterized by severe food deficits, and weak and deficient agrarian structures and policies. He enumerated the tasks assigned to Governments and International Agencies in the implementation of the Declaration of Principle and Programme of Action. The implementation of WCARRD could have achieved sustained growth and development only if material progress had been associated with social justice and the deliberate involvement of the poorer segment of the rural populations.

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42. He summarized progress achieved at the national level by FAO and other United Nations Agencies in the implementation of the Plan of Action. The weaknesses discovered were summarized as: (a) the absence at the national level of a WCARRD strategy that would facilitate the implementation of a Government programme to achieve set objectives; (b) priority given to economic policy reforms under structural adjustment programmes that overshadowed and detracted official attention from WCARRD principles and that relegated it to the level of peripheral interest by some Governments; (c) awareness of WCARRD and the Peasant's Charter confined to a limited number of government officials, while coupled with minimal awareness by still fewer of the most active NGO's.

43. He invited the Conference to consider the need to decide on the adoption of a Minimum Action Plan to be executed over the next four years at sub-regional and regional levels. He concluded by reconfirming FAO's commitment and resolve to mobilize its technical competence in support of African Governments and its endeavour to achieve the objectives set out in the Peasant's Charter.

44. The Conference expressed grave concern about the intensification of rural poverty, a situation which had been contrary to the expectations of WCARRD. It re-affirmed its commitment to the noble ideals and aspirations of the Peasant's Charter which were still regarded as valid and relevant. The Conference acknowledged that the primary responsibility for rural development rested with national governments and, therefore, it appealed to them to formulate a Minimum Plan of Action at national, sub-regional and regional levels. However, the Conference admitted that the challenge of reversing the deepening trend in rural poverty by unaided Member Nations would be a daunting task, given the enormity of the combined effects of internal pressures (population, environmental stress, adverse domestic terms of trade, natural and man-made calamities), and recession-related external constraints. The Conference, therefore, appealed to FAO and the donor community to provide technical and financial support for the formulation and execution of the Minimum Plan of Action at the three levels.

45. The Conference commended FAO for the establishment of the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Africa (CIRDAFRICA), as well as the efforts made by some countries in the Region to participate in its activities. The importance of the Centre's contribution to rural development, especially the possibilities it offered in the areas of training, research and exchange between African rural development specialists, was stressed.

46. The Conference expressed concern over the difficult financial situation of CIRDAFRICA and regretted that only 17 countries had joined the institution to date. Improvement in the membership was indispensable for the success of CIRDAFRICA's activities because more avenues could be opened for technical cooperation among countries of the Region. The Conference endorsed these conclusions, and called upon CIRDAFRICA Member Nations to honour their financial obligations towards the Centre. Additional FAO Member Nations in the Region were encouraged to join the Centre in order to strengthen its contribution towards rural development in Africa.

Sustainable agriculture and environment

47. The Assistant Director-General for the Agriculture Department apprised the conference on the outcome of the United Nation's Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 3 to 14 June 1992, and its implications for agriculture, economic and social policy, as well as forestry and fisheries development in the Region. The Rio Declaration, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on Climate Change, and the non-legally-binding principles on forests were among the visible results of UNCED.

48. He informed the Conference that Agenda 21 of the UNCED contained significant implications for future programme and policy priorities for agencies such as FAO, and especially for countries in the Region. In addition to the specific chapter on sustainable agriculture and rural development (SARD), chapters on combatting deforestation, freshwater resources and oceans and marine resources components related to bio-diversity, education, land use planning, mountain ecosystems, technology transfer, toxic chemicals; at least 72 of the 115 programme areas were related to FAO. The Organization was seen to be well positioned to assist countries to implement Agenda 21, but more progress was necessary with regard to financing.

49. Referring to the International Cooperative Programme Framework (ICPF/SARD) endorsed by the Twenty-sixth Session of the FAO Conference in 1991 and embodied in the Agenda 21 with its cross-sectoral character, he informed the Conference that it was considered a rational approach to the implementation of national policies and programmes for sustainable agriculture and protection of the environment in the Region. Follow-up activities were suggested for consideration by the Member Nations that would demonstrate their commitment to sustainable development and environment. The UNCED decision to initiate negotiations for an International Framework Convention on Desertification Control was particularly relevant to the African countries.

50. The Regional Soil Resources Officer presented the Agenda item on Sustainable Agriculture and Environment. 4 He reminded the Conference that the concept of sustainability included environmental, social, economic and technological aspects. The challenges facing Africa in meeting the goals of SARD were rapid population growth, unfavourable terms of trade, technological and infrastructural gaps, debt-overhang and natural calamities. Because of Africa's largely rural structure, environmental and sustainability problems were significant in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors.

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51. He recalled that natural resources for agriculture in Africa were extensive but fragile and unevenly distributed, thus creating problems in many areas due to population pressure and natural calamities. There had been advanced land degradation in some areas, especially the rangelands.

52. The way to put Africa's agricultural development onto sustainable dimensions was effective implementation of programmes at national, regional and international levels by reviewing and reforming policies to reflect sustainability criteria; building technical and institutional capacity at all levels; transferring and adopting technologies to increase food production; and improving productivity in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors with a minimal detrimental effect on the natural resource base. The Conference welcomed the comprehensive introduction of the document 5 which reviewed the results of the UN Conference on Environment and Development, including Agenda 21 of UNCED, and affirmed the importance of proper management of Africa's considerable natural resources which could feed present populations on the continent only through sustainable and efficient use and management.

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53. The Conference endorsed the recommendation that emphasis be placed on assessment and monitoring of land, water and biological resources, and on strengthening environmental planning and impact assessment capacity in, for example, the ministries responsible for agricultural and land management and development.

54. The Conference called for the development of national programmes related to Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) within the context of UNCED's Agenda 21. The International Cooperative Programme Framework for SARD, endorsed at the last FAO Conference, should take into account existing FAO programmes, as well as such initiatives as the National Environmental Action Plans, National Conservation Strategies and National Reports prepared for UNCED in developing national programmes. These integrated agriculture, forestry and fisheries programmes should be among the countries' priorities in their development assistance programmes. Collaboration with international organizations such as UNDP, UNEP, IFAD and the World Bank was also essential.

55. The Conference endorsed the International Scheme on the Conservation and Rehabilitation of African Lands (ISCRAL), launched at the sixteenth FAO Regional Conference for Africa which represented a linchpin for follow-up in the Region to Agenda 21. Aspects related to fertility management, including identification and better use of all sources of plant nutrients and control of quantities lost through crop production and land degradation such as erosion, were emphasized. The Conference requested FAO to consider organizing a regional meeting, or series of sub-regional meetings, on ISCRAL to bring together countries and donors to discuss and agree on support for national programmes for land conservation and rehabilitation.

56. The Conference commended FAO's involvement in discussions related to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the difficulties faced by many countries in the Region in entering and competing in international agricultural markets. The Conference welcomed FAO's role in analyzing the impacts of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) on the agricultural sector, in particular with regard to the use of such inputs as fertilizers since their use was already limited by constraints in marketing, distribution and price escalations. The meeting on the impact of SAPs on agriculture, planned for December 1992 in Accra, would undoubtedly provide a useful contribution to this effect.

57. The Conference recalled the very low levels of input use in the Region, especially among smallholder producers of food crops. For the Africa Region, increased inputs, within the context of integrated pest management, integrated plant nutrition programmes, and irrigation and efficient use of water resources, was essential and fully consistent with the objective of sustainable agriculture and rural development. The main considerations in using more external and internal inputs were social acceptability, environmental soundness, and economic viability.

58. The Conference reiterated the priority placed on FAO activities related to women and youth, extension and education, transfer of technology, credit and finance, food loss prevention, marketing and processing, sustainable management of fishery and forest resources, as well as the conservation and use of biological diversity. These activities represented, inter alia. important components of sustainable agriculture and environment in the Africa Region.

59. The Conference regretted the difficult financial circumstances which had persisted in FAO for some years and had prevented the Organization from fully implementing its priority programmes for the Africa Region. They called for all Member Nations to fulfill their financial obligations to the Organization in order that present and future challenges, such as those posed through sustainable agriculture and rural development and the implementation of Agenda 21, could be met.

60. The Conference expressed the need to review national budgets and development plans that gave top priority to reform and structural adjustment programmes and those that favoured increased food supply, resource protection, and build-up of rural infrastructure. Moreover, innovative schemes were needed to relieve the financial burden constraining African countries in their ability to increase investment in agriculture.

61. Regretting the considerable food aid needs of the Region due to the present drought and famine in eastern and southern Africa, the lack of growth in agricultural productivity, and the continuing low priority given to agriculture as compared to other sectors, the Conference noted that the solution to this dilemma was to enhance rural development. This required implementation of measures to increase productivity, diversification of production within and outside agriculture, and increased processing and marketing techniques, coupled with storage facilities that would encourage higher and more stable incomes. These measures would then reinforce the investment levels necessary, technical changes and increased supply of agricultural products. The Conference reaffirmed the target of twenty percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to be applied to investment in agriculture. These challenges could be met primarily, however, through commitment from the countries themselves.

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