Excellencies, Heads of State and Government, Dr Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO, Honourable Ministers, Ambassadors, Distinguished Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is a great honour and pleasure for me to address you at this important event, World Food Summit: Five years later.
As you are all aware, Excellencies, food security is multifaceted in character and therefore necessitates concerted action by stakeholders at all levels. From the perspective of UN-HABITAT, whose principal mandate is that of promoting the sustainable development of cities and other human settlements, both urban and rural, promoting food security remains a central challenge in delivering the Habitat Agenda. Why is this so? Simply because from time immemorial, the availability of food has always influenced the wellbeing of settlements, and even dictated their viability. Food is clearly an important consideration in the sustainability of human settlements. How we plan our cities and towns, and how we provide socio-economic infrastructure, particularly as regards food distribution, is one of the key concerns in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.
In the United Nations Millennium Declaration, world leaders committed themselves to improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020. They renewed this commitment at the Special Session of the General Assembly for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, Istanbul+5, in June 2001 and accepted that the implementation of the Habitat Agenda is an integral part of the overall fight for the eradication of poverty. Poverty as we all know is a state in which basic needs, namely food, clothing and shelter are not adequately met. It is normally exacerbated by ill health, inadequate income and education, as cause and effect. If this is accepted, the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, as regards providing adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world, is relevant to this Summit.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. In most of the developing world, poverty might be predominantly a rural phenomenon, but as you know, we are living in an urbanizing world. People are on the move to cities. As we prepare ourselves for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, has recently observed that the "future of humanity is in cities". Of the world's 6 billion people, 50 percent are now in the urban areas. In Europe and North America, urbanization is more or less completed at about 80 percent. In Latin America, over the last 25 years, urbanization has also been very rapid, and is now above 75 percent. In Asia and Africa, urbanization stands around 36 and 37 percent respectively.
Thus, contrary to common belief, (primarily as a result of rural conflicts) Africa is already relatively more urbanized than Asia. These realities have great implications on food security, and on strategies to achieve it. The planning of our cities and other human settlements has to be borne in mind, if we are to secure food security at national, community and household level. Partly because we have not been prepared for this dramatic demographic shift, rapid urbanization has been accompanied by what is now referred to as the "urbanization of poverty".
As we might all be aware, a substantial proportion of the urban poor, not only lack decent shelter but are also usually unable to satisfy their food and nutritional requirements. Many are usually near nutritional deprivation due to severely limited ability to procure adequate food requirements.
As a result, where and when they can, a number of urban households are 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 purchasing power of the formal earnings. Unable to find part time employment, housewives have also found gardening a useful way to supplement household income. While there might be some immediate benefits in urban farming as a coping strategy, it is not without serious challenges to sustainable development of settlements. For, to accommodate urban and peri-urban agriculture will require allocation of more land. Obviously, this will have implications not only on the size of cities but also on the value of food produced on expensive urban land.
The problem of providing adequate infrastructure to sprawling cities is well known, not to mention high transportation costs, and associated pollution. Furthermore, given the relatively higher pollution rate in urban areas, the levels of contamination in horticultural products, for example, ought to be carefully investigated. The same is the case for urban livestock production, which also, because of high population concentrations, could increase risks for disease epidemics. From this perspective, the apparent opposition and at times hostility from municipal planning and by-laws to urban agriculture should not be dismissed offhand but warrant more careful analysis and consideration.
We, at UN-HABITAT, believe that the practice of urban agriculture could make significant contributions to urban food security, provided the above urban planning and health concerns are taken into consideration. In this regard, we have started to cooperate with FAO on how to promote safer and more sustainable urban and especially peri-urban agriculture and agricultural practices. We would like to work towards an integrated city development strategy which takes into account a city and its hinterland, the link between the rural and urban development dimensions in the sustainable development of settlements.
I am pleased to inform you that work in this direction has already started and is being supported by a number of donors. For example, in preparation for the Summit, with support from the European Union and the Government of The Netherlands, workshops on food security were organized for African Parliamentarians in Yaounde, Cameroon and in Nairobi, Kenya in collaboration with the Coalition of African Organizations for Food Security and Sustainable Development (COASAD).
The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada has also supported a follow-up workshop on the topic of "Urban Policy Implications of Enhancing Food Security in African Cities" organized jointly by UN-HABITAT, FAO and SIUPA (the Strategic Initiative on Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture).
These workshops focused on examining aspects of urban policies that impact on food production, supply and distribution in cities and how to make these policies more enabling of food security. The aim was to sensitize national and local leadership, as well as stakeholders at all levels, of what is possible and what is not, and create awareness among them on the necessity to review and revise relevant laws, by-laws and regulations, as appropriate.
The importance of agricultural marketing was particularly emphasized. It was concluded that the growing importance of urban agriculture is living testimony that urban migrants have given up farming as an occupation, but simply have moved closer to markets for their produce. In many countries, more efficient agricultural marketing services to farmers could go a long way to reduce the rapid rate of rural urban migration.
Excellencies, one of the conclusions of the First World Urban Forum hosted by UN-HABITAT last month in Nairobi was that policy-makers and planners need to focus on managing urbanisation rather than fighting it. And that development policies and strategies should deal with urban and rural areas, together, as essential components of a well-functioning economic region, considering their inter-linkages and mutual benefits. In this context, UN-HABITAT promotes and advocates integrated development planning of settlement systems (urban and rural) to facilitate easier transportation and distribution of food between and within cities, towns and rural areas.
Let us hope that through cooperation between our countries, cities and organizations, we will succeed in solving the problem of food security, as well as the problem of slums and poverty.
Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. I assure you that UN-HABITAT is fully committed to promoting sustainable development of human settlements, including food security for all people at all times, according to the principles adopted in the Habitat Agenda, the goals of the Millennium Declaration and in line with the recommendations and commitments of this Summit.
I wish this Summit great success and I thank you for your kind attention.