Irrigation key for Africa’s food security – Diouf

Urges Global “Early Reaction Fund” for countries in crisis

15 December 2008, Sirte, Libya - Water management is "a key element" in food security, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf told a ministerial conference on Water for Agriculture and Energy in Africa: the Challenges of Climate Change which opened here today.

The conference is organized by FAO, as the Chair of UN Water, together with the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Government and in collaboration with stakeholders including the African Union, the African Ministers' Council on Water Development, the African Development Bank and the Economic Commission for Africa.

During the three-day conference ministers from 53 African countries will consider a "Blue Revolution" programme designed to harness Africa's largely untapped water resources to its development. The conference aims at setting the scene for moving from talk to action.

The $65 billion, 20-year programme details the irrigation and hydroenergy investments required in each country. Sub-Saharan Africa, with the world's highest rate of undernourishment, is expected to be hard-hit by climate change. But the continent needs to triple its food production by 2050 to feed a population that will reach two billion.

Country investment briefs

This is the first time that thorough and precise individual Country Investment Briefs have been prepared, based on short-, medium- and long-term assessments and considering investment in water control at the village level, extensive irrigation systems and major river basins, both for agriculture and for hydro-electric power generation.

Turning to the ongoing global financial, economic and food crises, Diouf stressed that "reviving agricultural production in poor countries is the only viable and lasting solution to combat hunger. We must therefore invest more in agriculture."

He noted it is "essential to improve the conditions under which farmers work and trade", and that this was one reason he recently called for a new world summit of heads of state and government to "ensure greater coherence in the governance of global food security and lay the foundations of a new system of agricultural trade that offers farmers in the developed and developing countries alike the opportunity to earn a decent living".

"We must have the intelligence and the imagination to devise agricultural development policies, rules and mechanisms that will give us an international trade regime that is not only free but also fair," he continued.

In the immediate term, the summit should envisage the creation of an "Early Reaction Fund" to revive local agricultural production in case of crisis, particularly in low-income countries heavily reliant on food imports.

Joint declaration for the conference

Delegates to the conference are expected to adopt a joint declaration supporting water development at the national, regional and continental levels in order to fully exploit the potentialities of Africa's agriculture and energy sectors to ensure the food security of the continent and meet its increasing food and energy needs.

UN Water is an inter-agency mechanism coordinating the UN's water-related activities.

Photo: ©FAO/Florita Botts
Siphon irrigation in southern Tunisia.