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Food crisis dominates FAO conference

NAIROBI, June 19 – President Mwai Kibaki has called for urgent and decisive action to curb the rising global food prices.

As he officially opened the 25th Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Conference for Africa at the United Nations Office in Nairobi on Friday, President Kibaki urged participants to come up with practical recommendations for a permanent solution to the food crisis.

“Let me emphasise, however,” he said, “that for the poor people who are shouldering the heaviest burden of the current high food prices, a solution must be found now.”

“Therefore as you deliberate on these issues, I hope that you are also considering the fact that we need urgent and decisive action that will lead to prompt improvement of the situation,” said the President.

In this regard, the Head of State emphasised that elaborate measures must be undertaken to reverse the unfortunate situation to enable African nations achieve food security, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability.

President Kibaki observed, “Apart from crop production, some of the water basins in Africa have enormous potential for production of high-value freshwater fish. At the same time, this continent has access to valuable marine fishery resources. Regrettably, few of these resources are being exploited sufficiently due to lack of adequate investment.”

He challenged African countries to fully utilise water resources endowed in the continent to attain food security and achieve desperately needed economic development.

President Kibaki regretted that despite Africa hosting some of the largest global water basins, the continent persistently failed to effectively harness water resources to unlock the potential of increased production in food stuffs such as rice and sugar.

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“For instance, only four percent of our annual renewable water resources have been developed for irrigation, domestic and industrial water supply or hydropower use compared to 70-90 percent in the developed countries.”

He, at the same time, blamed a hefty food import bill for slowing agricultural growth and attainment of food security in Africa as envisaged by member countries during the 2004 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states Summit in Maputo.

The President said that during the summit, African countries had committed to put agricultural growth and food security at the centre of their development agenda by increasing budgetary allocation to the sector to at least 10 percent of their national budgets.

“The huge food import bill takes away resources that are crucial for investment, not only in support of agriculture, but also for the development of infrastructure as well as provision of other essential social services.”

The Head of State advocated for strengthened cooperation between African governments and development partners to avail both technical and financial resources to sustain food security in Africa.

President Kibaki reminded the participants that climate change had also aggravated the current food crisis due to erratic and extreme weather patterns characterised by irregular seasons, severe droughts, floods and storms.

“Even though the full impact of climate change is still not very clear, the frequency and severity of extreme weather patterns have become serious threats to food and water security, poverty and disease.”

Addressing the same forum FAO Director General, Dr Jacques Diouf, said food insecurity in Africa was a political problem, which could be addressed through good governance and goodwill of the political leaders.

Diouf challenged African countries to live up to the Maputo declaration to allocate 10 per cent of their resources to developing Agriculture and food production.

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The FAO secretary General also stressed the need for strengthening veterinary and sanitary services in African nations as a measure to boost livestock production which was below five percent.

He called for innovative measures to boost food production in Africa saying growing of drought resistant and early maturing crops need to be given priority.

Agriculture Minister William Ruto said Kenya, as Chair to the FAO conference for the next two years, will mobilise African Agriculture Ministers to campaign to bring down the tariffs and non-tariffs imposed by developed countries on African products yet they enjoyed free markets for their industrial products.

Donors and Non-Governmental organisations have under-invested in Agriculture in Africa in the last 30 years, Ruto said, adding that the continent should change the tide to feed the population which is anticipated will reach 2.5 billion by 2050.

The Executive Director of UN-HABITAT Dr Anna Tibaijuka, who led participants in observing a minute of silence to remember the two Kenyan ministers who perished in a plane crash last week, said rapid urbanisation was a contributory factor to food insecurity in Africa.

Saying that food rioters and most of the hungry are in urban areas, Tibaijuka asked African countries to check the trend by securing sustainable Agriculture in rural areas.

The 25th FAO regional conference of Agriculture Ministers is intended to develop a prescription to a global food crisis that has already sparked off food riots in Nairobi, Dakar, Ndjamena and Cairo.

The continent is handicapped by outdated farming methods, erratic weather and a volatile international market.

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