- The African ministerial summit on water resources and management is expected to agree on the the creation of a “rapid action fund” to revive local agricultural production in case of crisis, particularly in low-income countries heavily reliant on food imports.
The meeting attended by 53 sub-Saharan African countries and hosted by Libya, is also expected to adopt a joint declaration supporting water development at the national, regional and continental levels to fully exploit Africa's potential agriculture and energy sectors, ensuring food security of the continent and meet its increasing food and energy needs.
A senior United Nations official today told a meeting of African ministers that harnessing the continent’s largely untapped water resources is critical in feeding and providing for its people, as delegates consider a multi-billion dollar, long-term irrigation and hydroelectricity programme.
The $65 billion, 20-year Blue Revolution water management programme is designed to exploit Africa’s natural resources by providing investment for water control at the village level, extensive irrigation systems and developing major river basins for agriculture and hydroenergy generation.
Water management is “a key element” in food security, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf said at the opening of the conference, Water for Agriculture and Energy in Africa: the Challenges of Climate Change.
The meeting observed that, sub-Saharan Africa, already said to be suffering from the world’s highest rate of malnourishment, needs to triple its food production by 2050 to feed a population predicted to balloon to 2 billion people, while also expected to be the hardest-hit by climate change.
FAO has organized the three-day conference, in collaboration with the African Union, the African Ministers' Council on Water Development, the African Development Bank and the Economic Commission for Africa, bringing together ministers from 53 African nations with the theme “moving from talk to action.”
Turning to the ongoing global financial, economic and food crises, Mr Diouf stressed that “the revival of agricultural production in poor countries is the only viable and lasting way to combat hunger. We must therefore invest more in agriculture.”
He called for a 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.”
FAO also issued a report today warning that the global economic slowdown threatens to reduce flows of investment and assistance to developing countries, including the support to agriculture that has helped many strengthen their potato sectors.
The drop in investment, trade and potato farmer’s access to credit comes at a time when the vegetable has become an important staple food and lucrative cash crop in many developing countries, with China becoming the world’s biggest producer, and Bangladesh, India and Iran among the leading potato consumers.
Developed countries may be tempted to raise trade barriers, while the banking crisis will leave many farmers with no credit to invest in production in 2009, according to a press release issued by the agency.
“Urgently needed is a vigorous new agenda for potato research and development aimed at protecting countries’ food security and providing new market opportunities for potato producers,” said Coordinator of the FAO International Year of the Potato 2008 secretariat, NeBambi Lutaladio.
As harvests in Africa, Asia and Latin America are on average half those achieved in Western Europe and North America, FAO underscored the importance of providing potato growers with better quality planting material, varieties that are resistant to pests, diseases, drought and climate change, and farming systems that make better sustainable use of natural resources.
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