Southern African countries will have to raise their agricultural productivity if they are to feed their expanding populations, the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) warned at the weekend.
Addressing an extraordinary summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on agriculture and food security in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, FAO Secretary General Jacques Diouf called for increased spending on the agricultural sector.
"The ministers of the economy, finance and of the budget need to dedicate at least 10 percent of the national budget to agriculture; they also need to see that agriculture receives an appropriate allocation of resources from poverty reduction and debt alleviation programmes, and also European Development Funds," he said.
Diouf noted that that average per capita food production in the region had either stagnated or decreased in recent years, improved seed varieties were not widely used, and livestock vaccines and feed were insufficient; aquaculture, which already accounted for 30 percent of the global fish supply, was still in its infancy.
"With 87 million people, representing 43 percent of the population, undernourished - up from 33 percent in 1990-92 - SADC is among the African regions with the highest hunger prevalence rates," Diouf added. The region's population was expected to number 400 million by 2050.
According to SADC Executive Director Prega Ramsamy, cereal production in the region had been stagnant for over a decade, improving slightly to 22,753 million mt in 2003, compared to 22,062 million mt in 1990, while the population had grown from 152 million in 1990 to 212 million in 2003.
"Peace in our region will not last if our people are haunted by poverty and underdevelopment," Namibian President Sam Nujoma cautioned. "This is a disturbing phenomenon, which we have to reverse as a matter of urgency."
The summit, convened by Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, who is also the current chairman of SADC, approved the Dar es Salaam Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, which reiterated a joint regional commitment to resuscitating agriculture through the implementation of an action plan.
The declaration focuses on some of the most serious problems facing the agricultural sector in Southern Africa, such as inequalities in income distribution and constraints in accessing the means of production, including land and capital.
It also pointed out the impact of HIV/AIDS on agricultural productivity, and the urgent need to empower small-scale farmers with limited access to key agricultural inputs, such as fertilisers and improved seed varieties that could contribute to higher yields.
"We are very delighted that the recommendations set us in a new thrust to make agriculture to be a prop to economic development," Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe told reporters.
Over the past three years a number of southern African countries have faced acute food shortages, mainly due to adverse weather conditions, poverty, issues of governance and HIV/AIDS. In 2002, an estimated 15 million people in the region needed food aid. This year, UN agencies have warned of continued food insecurity in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Malawi, Lesotho, and Zambia.
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