Pope to Visit Summit on Food Security

Director-General of UN Organization Addresses Synod

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 13, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI will visit the Rome headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization for the opening day of its World Summit on Food Security.



The Pope will visit the FAO on Nov. 15, the Vatican announced today. The World Summit on Food Security will be held immediately prior to the FAO general conference, Nov. 18-23.

The Vatican announcement comes a day after Jacques Diouf, director-general of the U.N. organization, addressed the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. The synod is under way at the Vatican through Oct. 25.

Work to be done

Diouf's address to the synod illustrated the bleak situation of the African continent. He offered an extensive look at the problems afflicting Africa as reflected in certain key statistics.

"In Africa despite the important progress achieved by many countries, the state of food insecurity is very worrisome," he said. "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 30 countries of the world in a state of food crisis needing urgent help currently, 20 are in Africa."

The continent needs to "modernize its means and its infrastructure" for agricultural production, the U.N. director noted, explaining that agriculture represents 11% of exports, 17% of the GNP on the continent, and above all, 57% of employment.

Nevertheless, statistics he offered point to the poor state of development: Only 16 kilograms of fertilizer per hectare of arable land are made use of, versus 194 kilograms in Asia and 152 kilograms in South America. This count is yet weaker in Sub-Saharan Africa with only five kilograms per hectare.

Another issue, Diouf noted, is the lack of a system of quality control for seeds, since only a third of seeds are evaluated and selected.

Additionally, there is a lack of infrastructure for transportation, storing and packaging. "The rural roads are at the level of India at the beginning of the 70s," Diouf said. "The losses of harvests reached 40% to 60% for some agricultural products."

As well, there is too much dependence on rain, since only 7% of arable land is irrigated in Africa. "However, the continent only uses 4% of its reserves of water versus 20% in Asia," the FAO director observed.

Price tags

The solutions to these and other problems, Diouf maintained, rely on financial resources.

"In fact," he said, "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."

This boils down to a "question of priority," the director affirmed: "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 [1 trillion, 340 billion] U.S. dollars per year globally."

Diouf stated that "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."

However, he observed, "Only five countries have to this day respected this commitment, even if some progress has been seen in other 16 countries."

The U.N. director went on to note promises of more assistance and reasons for encouragement.

"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," he asserted.

Greatest tragedy

The FAO general-director contended that "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," he affirmed, "can but be tied to the need for progress in the realization of the right to food for all."

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On ZENIT's Web page:

Full text of Jacques Diouf's address to the synod: www.zenit.org/article-27180?l=english