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Second COASAD General Assembly and Pan-African Congress on Food Security, Trade and Sustainable Development
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Members of COASAD;
Distinguished Participants;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

It gives me great pleasure to welcome all of you to the Headquarters of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT, here at Gigiri and to this Second COASAD General Assembly and Pan-African Congress on Food Security, Trade and Sustainable Development.

I am sure we all agree that the issue of food security is not only pivotal but also basic to the realization of the poverty eradication and better living conditions in both rural and urban areas in developing countries. Almost daily, at the national and international levels, we see, read and hear through various news media about starvation, hunger and deprivation, particularly in African countries. Africa remains the most food deficient continent and the predictions are grim that unless radical measures are undertaken, starvation in the continent would be much worse into the next decade than what it is today.

Food insecurity in Africa derives mainly from a number of causes – some natural phenomena, some sociological and development processes, while some are of human-created, socio-political and military conflictual causes.

I would like to briefly touch on some of these causes that I think are of utmost importance. First, one of the causes of food insecurity in Africa is directly related to natural hazards and disasters including droughts, floods, pests and disease outbreaks. Crop and animal husbandry in many countries in Africa, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, suffer from droughts because of limited availability or non-existence of irrigation facilities and flood control measures. A substantial proportion of the African continent is naturally arid including the North and the North-East of the continent. Countries affected by this phenomenon include Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, North-East Kenya, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Burkina-Faso to mention a few. Drought, desertification and food deficiency in the horn of Africa has become a recurring menace over the past three decades and these are in the main brought about by the vagaries of weather and climate.

The drought and desertification factor in food security raises to the fore, the challenge of managing the water crisis, not only in the city supply system context, but also in wider river basin contexts. It has been estimated that more than half of the municipal water supply is lost through leakages before it reaches the consumer. Added to this, are losses from extravagant and wasteful use of water by industry and individuals. More effective water conservation and use management in these systems (municipal supply systems and river water course/basin systems) would assure greater availability of water for domestic/household use and for more extensive irrigation in the interest of agriculture and food production. I have had occasions to state that the battle for water and sanitation will have to be fought in human settlements, particularly in the slums and shanties of the growing urban areas of developing countries. I still believe that these battles can only be averted through adopting more effective water conservation and management policies and strategies and according water the policy priority it deserves.

Secondly, the urbanization phenomenon – which is a sociological development process of the movement of the population from the rural areas to the cities and towns, otherwise considered a positively beneficial development process—is nevertheless concomitant to the population’s movement from agriculture/farming occupation to non-agriculture/non-farming occupations in the cities and thus negatively affects food production and availability.

Today, the fastest urbanizing region in the world is Africa. This rapidly increasing urbanization of the population usually translates into decreases/declines in the proportion of the population engaged in agriculture/farming and food production. Although over 60 per cent of the African population is still engaged in agriculture and food production, this proportion is fast declining with increasing urbanization of the population.

Africa is estimated, for example, to be currently between 38% and 40% urban but this urban population is expected to increase by 70 per cent in the period between 2000 and 2015. The combined population of African cities will double in the next 14 to 18 years, as 200 million additional people – mostly from the rural countryside—migrate to African cities. These realities have implications on food security and on strategies to achieve it. Rapid urbanization is increasingly accompagnied by what is now referred to as the “urbanization of poverty” – poverty defined as a state in which basic needs, namely: food, clothing and shelter are not adequately met.

This rapid urbanization in Africa and the urban poverty that grows with it had led substantial numbers of urban households into turning to urban agriculture, not only as a hobby, but as an important means to supplement their food supplies or as a way of augmenting declining income and purchasing power of their formal earnings. Its contribution as source of food security supplement notwithstanding, the practice of urban agriculture embodies much wider ramifications and externalities for overall public health and integrated, sustainably efficient city planning and development that are not entirely salutary.

Still in the context of urbanization, with the massive surge of poor people to the cities (transforming rural poverty into urban poverty), the cities in many cases had not been adequately planned to receive such population wave in terms of housing and other housing services. The consequence is that the migrants are forced to live in crowded and squalid conditions, thus creating increasingly worsening conditions.

It is, for example, currently estimated that some 300 million urban poor live in the slums of African cities and as much as 60 per cent of the population of many African cities reside in slums. The result is constant cholera and other water-borne disease epidemics. A substantial proportion of urban poor and slum residents suffer from malnutrition, and the challenge of ensuring food security and adequate nutrition to the African urban population remains a daunting one for all relevant actors and stakeholders.

The other cause of hunger in Africa relates to the problem of low and subsistence productivity associated with stagnant technology, lack of capital to invest in seasonal inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, and agricultural extensions services, especially those directed to women farmers who do most of the farm work in Sub-Saharan Africa. Asia, for example, eradicated its recurring hunger and starvation of the 1940s-1970s through the green revolution, which more than doubled agricultural yields, especially of the staple foods such as rice. While there has been a lot of talk about the dry revolution for Africa, which seeks to increase crop yields by breeding non-irrigated staples, little has been recorded on the ground as yet in terms of spreading the results of such research to the broad peasant community. It is yet to reflect positively on output. Average yields in Africa remain very low. Clearly, unless measures are taken to improve crop yields, particularly that of staples through adoption of more productive technology, it will be very difficult to eradicate hunger in Africa.

Technology is therefore one of the crucial factors in improving food production and food security in Africa. In this context, it may be instructive to note that over 60 per cent of the African population is still engaged in agricultural production – mostly producing for subsistence. Compare this with regions like North America with over 75 per cent of their populations urban and with less than 5 per cent of their populations engaged in agriculture. This 5% or less of the population that are farmers produce, not only enough to feed their whole countries but also feed a significant proportion of the world’s population outside their borders. The same is true of several European countries with close to 80 per cent of their populations urban and with about 3 per cent of their populations engaged in agriculture but producing enough to feed their respective countries populations and still leave surpluses for export.

This high agricultural productivity is made possible by advances in the technology of food production. World-wide, it is known that world food production has increased and expanded since the 1960s as a result of the Green Revolution, i.e., adoption of crop rotation, the mass production and use of petroleum-based fertilizers and chemical pesticides, expanded irrigation and the introduction of genetically superior, disease-resistant cultivars.

This revolution seems to still elude Africa. Why is this? one must ask.

A further cause of food insecurity is that government policies in many countries in the continent have not given resources priority to increase domestic food production. For example, in some countries, the withdrawal of subsidized marketing services for food crops has resulted in shift in production patterns of staple crops. Tanzania is a case in point. As a result of the government withdrawal of subsidized marketing services, there has been a shift in the production of maize from remote areas with good rainfall to regions with relatively good infrastructure but more unreliable rainfall. This means increasing national food insecurity. Another point I would like to make is that cheaper imported food as a result of liberalized import trade and a large amount of food that is smuggled into countries have severely depressed domestic food crop prices and thereby the local food production. The effect of trade liberalization, particularly as it relates to food, is not always positive.

The precarious food situation in Africa is to a large degree a direct result of the prevalence of armed conflicts in many countries and regions of the African continent. Whatever the causes of these conflicts may be, be it internal communal conflicts, political conflicts, border disputes or foreign interference, they have had disastrous consequences for food production, distribution and food security in many parts of the continent. These conflicts displace populations and create a climate of insecurity that militates against agricultural engagement and production. Since the 1990s, more than 20 African countries have been directly or indirectly affected by armed conflicts. They include Angola, South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Chad, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Algeria, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, the Comoros, and Djibouti. Several other countries have been plagued by internal communal conflicts. Crises in these countries that are fundamentally linked to armed or communal social conflicts have destroyed food production and trade, creating huge refugee populations, and causing acute food shortages in many regions.

The refugee population in Africa, for example, now numbers about 3.6 million (i.e., about 30 % of the global refugee population of 12.1 million) and the causes of this have negative ramifications for food production and distribution. In the past decade, over 30 million Africans have been displaced by both internal and external conflicts. Recent research findings have indicated that annual food production declined by 12 per cent on average in sub-Saharan African countries experiencing armed conflicts (Keith Wiebe et al. (2000) “Who will be Fed in the 21st Century: Challenges to Science and Policy”).

There is therefore a direct connection between armed conflict or social disruption and food insecurity.

A relatively recent contributor to food deficiency in the African continent is the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In its incidences in the economically active and working population, both in the rural and urban areas, it has had the effect of weakening, debilitating and killing off a large segment of the food producing population. As its infection rate continues to rise and spread like wild fire in several regions of Africa, it poses grave dangers to food security in the continent and calls for more effective policies and programmes to tackle the pandemic.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have noted the various issues which this Congress proposes to deliberate on, which range from “Globalization and Food Trade Liberalization under the WTO and Bretton Woods Institutions,” to “Implications of Global Conferences for African Food Security,” “NEPAD and Hunger in Africa,” and to “Food Security: Quality or Quantity.”

These issues are of far-reaching importance to food security in Africa and the world. I wish at this juncture therefore to commend COASAD International for its dogged efforts at seeking to stimulate and sensitize African Governments and policy-makers, as well as private sector organizations and other stakeholders, to the crucial importance of ensuring food security in the African continent. I note that this is about the fourth conference that COASAD is organizing over the past two years towards this goal – one was in Yaounde, in July 2001, the others had been in Nairobi, with the immediate past one being as recent as November last year (2002).

The reports of these meetings have been documented, published and disseminated and the most recent has just been released this morning. It is my wish that these reports will help stimulate greater awareness amongst all actors and stakeholders, most importantly governments, of the necessity to bring about food security situation in our continent. I warmly commend COASAD for these endeavours and urge them to continue the good work. I wish to also take the opportunity to acknowledge and thank all the resource persons for this Congress who have accepted to avail the Congress of their experiences through making invited presentations. I am informed that several of the requests were made at very short notice. That they were so magnanimous to oblige these invitations shows how committed they are to the COASAD mission and cause of ensuring food security and sustainable development in the African continent.

I am sure that from the various presentations, much deeper understanding and fuller appreciation of the food security issues would emerge. I wish to thank them very much. I would not end this address without expressing immense gratitude to the Government of the Netherlands and to the European Union for their continued support of COASAD and its activities. It has to be acknowledged that without their support, this Congress would not have been possible. I thank them very sincerely.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I sincerely hope that discussions and deliberations from this workshop will contribute to more effectively tackling the problem of food insecurity in the African continent. I very much look forward to the outcome of your deliberations.

I thank you for your attention.

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