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December 17, 2008

Africa as entitled to subsidise farmers as EU does, says FAO head

by Mabvuto Banda

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has challenged rich nations to stop discouraging African countries from subsidising farming as they spend billions of dollars subsidising their own farmers.

FAO Director General Jacques Diouf questioned the basis of attitudes against subsidies in Africa by the developed world when they spend more money subsidising farming in their own countries.

"In 2007 a total of $365 billion was spent on farmers who only represent 2 to 4 per cent of (the populations of) those countries and I have been asking why developing countries could not provide subsidies to their farmers who represent 60 to 80 per cent of the population?," Diouf said in Malawi. "No one has ever come up with an answer to that."

Diouf, who conferred the Agricola Medal on Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika in late November, lauded wa Mutharika for securing food supplies in the southern African nation in the last four years of his administration.

Wa Mutharika is the sixth African to receive the award which has been awarded to people like the late Pope John Paul II.

"We are happy that during that time we are able to show that with good leadership and support of the farmers, the farmers are able to produce not only for their families and country but for export to other countries as well," he said.

He said Malawi had been able to contain food prices and had achieved economic growth despite rising food and energy prices and the negative impacts of climate change.

"Even on a global level the world has not contained the food crisis with the number of people facing food shortages rising by 75 million in 2007 instead of being reduced as agreed at the World Food Summit of 1994," he said.

Malawi, one of the poorest nations in Africa, is enjoying a modest economic boom that has been sparked by good maize harvests, economic reforms and an increase in aid from Western nations and other international donors.

In the last three years, the southern African nation has had bumper harvests due to good rains and a successful fertiliser subsidy programme. Last year the country exported 400,000 tonnes of white maize to Zimbabwe.

But the bumper yields have come at a huge cost. This year Malawi is spending 29 billion kwacha -- double the amount of last year -- to subsidise feriliser and seed for the current farming season.


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