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April 21, 2008

African infrastructural development is lagging, says FAO's Diouf

In an exclusive interview with the German weekly, Die Zeit, Jacques Diouf, the Senegal-born general secretary of the FAO, calls for a look behind the scene, which despite all the talk about "aid" is characterized by the fact that aid programs for agriculture in developing countries were cut by 50 percent between 1992 and 2000. Even the most-recent, 9th development fund of the EU for the ACP countries (about 100 countries in Africa, the Carribbean and the Pacific region), only grants 6.5 percent to the farming sector.

Beyond the immediate emergency aid for the poorest developing nations, Diouf said, programs for the real development of water resources and of transportation infrastructure is urgent. "In the African countries south of the Sahara, only about 4 percent of the arable land is irrigated, in contrast to Asia, where it is 38 percent, and that is because there is no sufficient supply of water. The countries in Africa south of the Sahara only use 3 percent of their renewable water resources, in contrast to 14 percent in Asia. The prime problem is that there is too little irrigation in agriculture. If 98 percent of the arable land depends on rainfalls which cannot be steered, it comes as no surprise if there are ups and down of production which can also cause famines."

"There are also too few roads," Diouf continued. "How can you expect the production to find its way to the markets, or modern technology to the farmers? Storage is a problem. Many developing countries lose 40 to 60 percent of their production, because there is a lack of appropriate cooling equipment and of conservation methods. That is a lack of investments. But there is also a shortfall of seeds, fertilizers, feed grains and the like."

All the talk about open markets in the context of the WTO is good and fine, but as long as the basic infrastructure is not there for the farmers in the developing sector to get their products to the markets, it will not work, and it will not work on the basis of private initiative — this is an area where the state has to intervene, Diouf stresses.

The food crisis is a serious threat not only to the stability of the immediately-concerned countries; it does affect the stability of the whole world, Diouf adds, and he calls for a "Second Green Revolution," —which wil be on the agenda of the next big FAO conference.


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