FAO Director's Address at Africa Synod

"Africa ... Must Not Regress Into Disinclination and Negation"

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 13, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation provided by the Vatican press office of the intervention given Monday by the specially invited guest Jacques Diouf, director-general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), at the Twelfth General Congregation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.

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First of all I would like to most respectfully and cordially greet you all.

Allow me to express the honor and emotion I feel in having been invited to intervene before this noble Assembly. I hope to express my deep gratitude for your invitation, of which I recognize the exceptional character. It is a singular distinction to be associated with your reflections on some of the crucial problems of the world, especially food/dietary insecurities that you have asked me to speak to you about.

Our dialogue could not be conceived without the intermediation of the word which is symbolic of what is human, but that is also the carrier of the universal message of peace, of solidarity and of fraternity.

Your solemn meeting is placed under the sign of the trilogy: “Synod”, “Bishop”, “African”.

Having the great privilege of speaking before the Most Holy Father, I must draw from the sources of wisdom of the ancients to avoid my venturing on the intellectual labyrinth of two nouns: “Synod” and “Bishop”. I would dare to venture only on the less arduous path of the noun: “African”.

Africa, first of all these are common values of civilization based on an historical consciousness of belonging to the same people. During prehistory, in order to flea the desertification of the Great Lakes region, this people founded the Sudanese-Nilotic and Egyptian civilizations during the course of proto-history .

Foreign occupation of Egypt during the Sixth Century engendered migrations to the South and to the West, from the Valley of the Nile. From the beginning of the First Century until the ultra-marine invasions, the great empires and kingdoms flourished here in succession: Ghana, Nok, Ife, Mali then Songhai, Haoussa and Kanem-Bornou, Zimbabwe and Monomotapa, Congo. These values are founded on a geographic consciousness, a territory which is a triangle bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

Africa, martyred, exploited, despoiled by slavery and colonization but now politically sovereign, must not regress into disinclination and negation, even if she has a duty to remember it. She must have the greatness to forgive and to continue to develop a cultural conscience based on her own identity which refuses alienating assimilation. She must study the operational concepts of Blackness and Africanity, including the diaspora, which are founded on the putting down of roots but also on openness.

These values are reflected in an artistic expression (painting, sculpture) that accentuates the forms and the dimensions to above all transmit a message of love or to manifest an emotion that surpasses the dichotomies of oppositions. They also express themselves through music and dances that are more rhythmic and with more improvisation than lyricism and music theory. These values have also produced a type of architecture made of asymmetrical parallelism where points, triangles and cylinders dominate, contrasting with rectangle angles, squares and cubes in a balance with relationship to its central axes, so characteristic of buildings in other continents.

It is this cultural terrain that is the solid foundation upon which Africa must build its future in harmony with the other peoples of planet Earth.

Africa has always been presented under the slants of the difficulties she encounters. But it is a land of the future which in the next forty years will know a strong demographic growth. In 2050, she will number two billion inhabitants - double what it is today, thus passing India (1.6 billion inhabitants) and China (1.4 billion inhabitants) and will represent the largest market in the world.

With world resources amounting to 80% of platinum, 80% of manganese, 57% of diamonds, 34% of gold, 23% of bauxite, 18% of uranium, 9% of petroleum, 8% of gas, Africa cannot be ignored in the economic development of the planet. This mineral and energy potential will not become reality, until, it puts itself at the service of the economic emancipation of its peoples, if Africa frees itself from the yoke of hunger and malnutrition. To do this, she must live in peace and in unity. The administration of the cities in the States must be carried out with democracy, transparency, the primacy of right and the application of law by an independent justice, before which all citizens are accountable for their actions. The economy must create wealth and prosperity to benefit the people, especially the most disinherited and the most vulnerable.

Food security is essential to the decrease of poverty, the education of children, the health of the people, but also for a lasting economic growth. It conditions the stability and the security of the world. During the “riots for hunger” in 22 countries from all continents in 2007 and in 2008, the stability of governments was weakened. Each realized that food is also a social question of the first order and an essential factor in global security.

In 1996, the World Summit of Food, organized by the FAO, took on the solemn commitment to decrease by one half, hunger and undernourishment in the world. Towards this goal, it adopted a program to reach lasting food security. This commitment was reaffirmed at the Summit of the Millennium in 2000, by the World Summit on Food: five years later in 2002 and in the high-level FAO Conference on world food security held in June 2008.

Unfortunately the most recent data gathered by the FAO on hunger and malnutrition in the world revealed that today’s situation is even more worrisome than in 1996. Insecurity has increased everywhere in the world during the last three years because of the world crisis in 2007-2008, brought about by the explosion of prices of perishables and exacerbated by the financial and economic crisis that struck the world for over a year. All the areas of the planet are affected by this. For the first time in the history of humanity, the number of hungry persons has reached on billion, that is 15% of the global population.

In Africa despite the important progress achieved by many countries, the state of food insecurity is very worrisome. The continent today counts 271 million undernourished persons, that is 24% of the population, which represents an increase of 12 % in relation to the year before. Also, among the thirty countries of the world in a state of food crisis needing urgent help currently, twenty are in Africa.

The performance of African agriculture during the last decades has been insufficient. The growth of the agricultural product (2.6% per year between 1970 and 2007) was compensated by that of the population (2.7% for the same period) and the average food available per person has not increased. However, agriculture represents 11% of exports, 17% of the GNP on the continent, and above all 57% of employment. It remains an essential economic sector and a factor of social equilibrium without equivalent.

Africa needs to modernize its means and its infrastructure for agricultural production. The use of modern input locations is currently very insufficient. Thus, only 16 kg of fertilizer by hectare of arable land are made use of, versus 194 kg in Asia and 152 kg in South America. This count is yet weaker in Sub-Saharan Africa with only 5 kg per hectare. The use of selected seeds, which were the success of the Green Revolution in Asia, is still very weak in Africa. Only a third of the seeds is put through a system of quality control and certification.

The infrastructures of transportation, the means of storage and packaging are greatly lacking on this continent. The rural roads are at the level of India at the beginning of the 70s. The losses of harvests reached 40 to 60% for some agricultural products.

Only 7% of arable lands are irrigated in Africa as opposed to 38% in Asia. This count falls down to 4% for Sub-Saharan Africa where on 93% of land, life, I should say survival of the people, depends on rain, a factor that is more and more uncertain with the effects of global warming. However, the continent only uses 4% of its reserves of water versus 20% in Asia.

Also the intra-African commerce in agricultural products is still relatively limited. Despite the existence of 14 regional economic groups, only 14% of imports of the main agricultural products for Africa come from the region. For cereals this number drops to 6%. Intra-regional commerce of agricultural products in Africa, like for other products, should be encouraged more so that it plays a greater role in the food security of the continent.

African farmers should improve their living conditions. They must be able to live in a dignified manner, working with the tools available today. They need seeds with high yield, fertilizers, food for animals and other modern utensils. They cannot continue, like in the Middle Ages, to work the land with traditional tools, in unpredictable conditions, at the mercy of the whims of weather.It must be said and repeated over and over that it is impossible to conquer hunger and poverty in Africa without increasing agricultural productivity, because the extension of the acreage begins to find its limitations due to the impact of deforestation and the forays on the already fragile eco-systems.

The detailed program for the development of African agriculture (PDDAA), prepared with the support of the FAO, and completed by the documents on livestock farming, forests, fishing and aquaculture, was adopted by the Heads of State and the governments of the African Union in July 2003. Immediately after, 51 African countries asked for the support of the FAO to transform this program to State level. Thus, national programs of mid-term investments and projects for investment were prepared for a total of approximately 10 billion U.S. dollars.

The question of water is evidently essential. It will be all the more so because of the consequences of global warming which will have a particularly negative impact on the conditions of agricultural products in Africa. According to the Group from the UN inter-governmental experts on the evolution of the climate (GIEC) the yield of pluvial crops in Africa could decrease by 50% between now and 2020. A union of Ministers of Agriculture, water resources and energy thus was created in December 2008 in Sirte by the FAO with the support of the Libyan government. A portfolio of projects amounting to a total of 65 billion U.S. dollars was approved for short, medium and long term projects of irrigation and hydro-energy established for each country by the African governments with the support of the FAO.

However, we cannot achieve these goals without sufficient financial resources. In fact the problem of food insecurity in this world is primarily a question of mobilization at the highest political levels so that the necessary financial resources are made available. It is a question of priority when facing the most fundamental human needs.

We should recall that each year funds for agriculture in the OECD countries reaches 365 billion U.S. dollars and arms expenses amount to 1,340 billion U.S. dollars per year globally.

On the other hand, I would like to emphasize the fact that the necessary funding for the fight against hunger will be increased by 83 billion U.S. dollars per year, coming from the budget of the countries in development themselves, from private investments, notably from farmers themselves and, finally, public aid in development.

What we can see today is the result of choices effected on the basis of materialistic reasons to the detriment of ethical referentials. This results in conditions of unjust life and an unequal world where a small number of persons becomes richer and richer, while the vast majority of the population becomes poorer and poorer.

On the earth there is a sufficient number of financial means, effective technologies, natural and human resources to eliminate the hunger in the world once and for all. The plans, the programs, the projects and the politics exist at national and regional levels to reach this objective. In certain countries, from two to four percent of the population is able to produce enough to nourish the whole nation and even to export, while in the majority of others 60 to 80 % of the population is not always capable of satisfying even a small part of the dietary needs of the country.

The world spent 17% of public funding for development in the 70s to avoid the risks of famine in Asia and in Latin America.

These resources were necessary to build irrigation systems, rural roads, means of storage, as well as systems for the production of seeds, the fertilizer factories and food for animals which were the bases of the Green Revolution.

The resources to develop African agriculture should, first of all, come from national budgets. In Maputo in July 2003, the Heads of State and of African governments committed themselves to increasing the part of their national budget allotted to agriculture by up to 10% for the next five years at least. Only five countries have to this day respected this commitment, even if some progress has been seen in other sixteen countries.

Then, in conformity to the commitments of Monterrey of 2002 and of Doha in 2008, public Aid for development should be increased. The tendency to decrease aid for the development dedicated to agriculture, which has gone down by 17% in 1980 to 3.8% in 2006, must be turned around. Today, the level is 5 %, even if 70% of the world’s poor have agriculture as their means of existence, offering nourishment, revenues and employment.

The same growth objectives have been adopted for the financing of regional and under-regional banks as well as agencies of bilateral aid.

Finally, the investments from the private sector in the agricultural sector must be encouraged by stable juridical frames of reference. Collaboration between the private and the public sectors must be reinforced in the framework of a partnership that avoids the traps of unequal exchange.

Therefore to do this, we must adopt and apply a universal code of good behavior on direct foreign investments in agriculture.
However, in this difficult context of economic crisis, during the last two years the FAO has mobilized all the technical and financial means available to it to face the food crisis.

Apart from the assistance given in the framework of national and regional programs for food security and in the urgent projects launched to face the effects of hurricanes and other natural catastrophes, on December 2007 the FAO launched its “Initiative of the battle against the explosion of prices of perishables”. The objective is to facilitate access for small farmers to seeds, to fertilizers, to agricultural tools and equipment for fishing.

Today’s budget for the different relevant projects has been increased to 52 million U.S. dollars in Africa. Also, the projects in 16 African countries, which corresponds to a budget of 163.4 million U.S. dollars, have been put into the works by the FAO thanks to the support of the European Union within the framework of its “Facility of one billion euros”. These resources have been made available to the countries in development to help them face the food crisis. Now this consists in understanding, studying and making these programs and projects flourish.

Today, the flux of the wave of clandestine immigrants fleeing hunger and poverty brings to the shores of southern Europe the sad spectacle of men’s broken dreams, of women and children looking for a better life and who often find a tragic end far from the horizons and persons dear to them.

Structural optimist that I am, I fervently believe that tomorrow, thanks to investments and formation, the ebb of the tide of sons and daughters of Africa towards the fertile lands and abundant waters of the continent will create the conditions for a shining future of work and prosperity for those who for too long were marginalized and who, especially women, did their utmost to nurture the world.

A planet free from hunger, is what the miracle of an unshakeable faith in the omniscience of God and the indefectible belief in humanity can lead to. I have noted how with great satisfaction, the initiative for food security of the G8 Summit in Aquila last July, where I participated, and which placed the accent for the first time, on mid and long term agricultural development, in favor of the small producers of countries in development. In fact, this means not only counting on short term help for food, some being indispensable during the numerous crises, generated by the natural catastrophes and different conflicts, but which cannot ensure daily food for a billion persons suffering from hunger in the world.

The commitment taken up on this occasion to mobilize 21 billion U.S. dollars, over three years, for food security is an encouraging sign, if, this time, it is concretely and quickly put into work.

I have often pleaded, during the many years, without great results in favor of investments in the small agricultures in the poor countries to find a lasting solution to the problem of food insecurity. I am therefore particularly happy that today the heads of the G8 are following this approach.

Strong in this perspective of being able to mobilize in a greater way the means for this stake, the Council of the FAO decided to convoke a World Summit on food security at the level of Heads of State and Governments, to the FAO See in Rome, from 16 to 18 November, 2009. In effect it would be positive to clear a large consensus on the definitive eradication of hunger in the world, so as to allow all the peoples of the Earth to benefit from “the right to food” which is already the most fundamental of all of human rights. On my part I am convinced, because I know that it is not possible technically, that we must focus on the objective for 2025 as has already been done by many liberal American leaders for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Of all the suffering that the African continent experiences, hunger remains the most tragic and the most intolerable. All commitments for Justice and Peace in Africa can but be tied to the need for progress in the realization of the right to food for all. I would like to recall on this, the message by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, in June 2008, on the occasion of the High Level Conference of the FAO on world food security, in which he declared: “hunger and malnutrition are unacceptable in a world that, in reality, possesses production levels, resources and sufficient knowledge to put an end to these dramas and their consequences”.

These words testify, if there was any need, to the similarity in views of the Catholic Church and the FAO on this fundamental question. The Church has always given herself the task of comforting the misery of the poorest and the motto of the FAO is “Fiat Panis”: “Bread for all”.

You underline, Most Holy Father, in your last Encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” that any economic decision has a moral consequence. And it is to this level that we must raise ourselves, as you wrote: “The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly — not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centered”. Leopold Sedar Senghor said, allow me to quote him here: “we must light the lamp of the spirit for wood not to rot, for flesh not to mold...”.

The FAO makes every effort with its own means and despite the restrictions or obstacles it may encounter, to mobilize all the actors and decision makers in the fight against hunger and in the development of programs aiming to improve food security, as a priority in more vulnerable countries.

What animates us is the face of this man, that woman, that child who looks at us fixedly, an empty belly waiting for its daily bread and whose sadness and despair haunt our agitated sleep. It is the principle of the “centrality of the human being” that you opportunely mentioned in your encyclical Most Holy Father.

The vision of a world free of hunger is possible, if there is a political will at the highest level. In fact, several countries in Africa have managed to decrease famine. These would be Cameroon, Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique and Uganda.

The great spiritual and moral forces are an inestimable support for us in our activities. Because the task is colossal in effect and our ability to act is not always up to the level of the will that animates us. We will never have too many means to satisfy the “right to food” for all.

I would also like to praise the Church’s action in the field of the poorest. The missionaries, the religious and many communities often do the difficult tasks, at times the ungrateful but always useful alongside inter-governmental organizations of the NGOs and civil society. I would like to greet these men and women who I saw act in many countries with discretion and effectiveness.

Above all I would like to underline the convergence of religious teachings, especially those of the Catholic Church and Islam, towards the need to watch over the rational management of resources on the basis of a strategy of action respectful of persons and things of this world, far from excess and waste. All these teachings underline the fundamental role of social responsibility, recommending solicitude towards the poorest. The “social doctrine of the Church” from this point of view is essential.

Allow me to finish this intervention by quoting a verse from the Qur’an: “And when We decide to destroy a town, We send a definite order to those among them who are given the good things of this life. Then, they transgress therein, and thus the word is justified against it. Then We destroy it with complete destruction” (Surah Al-Isra, Verse 16).

May our world avoid this collapse!