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Agriculture should be an international priority in 2009
FAO’s General Manager
Jean Michel Severino,
AFD’s General Manager
The year 2008 comes to an end marked by a succession of major crisis, to such an extent that today nobody questions the fact that the world is in a crisis. With the food and financial crisis, which repercussions on the real economy are just starting to be felt, the international community can’t avoid thinking about its future any longer: today even more than yesterday, we must act – and make some choices.
If this has undeniably started, through the multiplication of international conferences which the G20’s latest summit in November 2008 is the most representative of, it must be admitted that the measures recommended hardly achieve any consensus, and concrete steps forward are particularly scarce. To the extent that, as the General Manager of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Jacques Diouf, and the General Manager of the French Development Agency (AFD) Jean-Michel Sévérino rightfully point it out in a column published by Libération under the title « Agriculture, an international priority », « like a fireman, the international community is running from crisis to crisis, watering the flames- without reaching the embers”. And among the stated crisis the most problematical one is, no doubt, the latter one, the ideological crisis: incapable of identifying solutions to the problems it faces, the international community seems to have gone haywire.
It’s within this general crisis context that we need to question the role of agriculture. Not only in relation to the obvious food issue and the related crisis, but also in regard of all the problems which today’s world is confronted with. Indeed, agriculture is naturally at the heart of the challenges faced by humanity in the XXI century, whether environmental, social or economic. It really looks as if a direction is missing allowing international actions to satisfy its legitimate equilibrium and development objectives; now, only agriculture seems to address so many strategic stakes for humanity’s future.
With this in mind Jacques Diouf and Jean-Michel Sévérino have written the previously mentioned column which we publish here-after: while the international community more or less agrees on the principle of rebuilding the bases « of a new world, the world of the XXI century » to use the words of the President of the French Republic Nicolas Sarkozy, agriculture must imperatively count among the priorities to be put in place. A resolution of prime necessity at the dawn of 2009 to bring about a better, fairer and just world.
The Momagri editorial team
« There’s a remarkable constancy throughout the great upheavals the world is experiencing: one crisis chases away the next one, today’s emergencies casting a shadow over yesterday’s priorities. Like a fireman, the international community rushes from crisis to crisis – without extinguishing the embers. Such is the scenario being put in place for world food. By extending to the sphere of reality the financial crisis could progressively lead to an agricultural raw materials’ price decrease.
Good news, would say those who remember the hunger riots caused by their take-off this past winter. This respite would indeed be welcome by those countries which were hit the hardest by the food crisis. But it would only be short-lived. Worse, the necessary structural changes brought to agriculture’s international orientation would risk being postponed by this lull – pushing humanity even closer to the pit. For the long term imbalances remain.
Despite the current drop the deep causes of an agricultural products’ upward trend remain: weak investments in agriculture, climate change effects, competition of bio-fuels for the land, emerging countries’ consumption increases, demographic growth… there will be 9 billion people on Planet Earth in 2050, leading to a 3% yearly average growth in demand. Without an equivalent growth of agricultural production particularly in low income countries with a food crop deficit, prices would only take-off again.
And, if the productivity take-off in the southern countries is within our reach, this will require consequent and lasting investments in rural infrastructures, in the modernisation of production methods and in agro-research. It will need seed multiplication and certification programmes, hydraulic projects in the villages and storage capacity development. It will require the stimulation of financial systems for the rural environment through micro-credits. It will call for the strengthening of producer professional organisations, key actors of these changes.
The food crisis sanctioned the very low priority given to agriculture over the last decades: this sector’s share in public aid to development has considerably declined, dropping from 17% in 1980 to 3% in 2006. This situation is most paradoxical, and greatly contrasts with agriculture’s huge potential, with its double role as the motor of economic growth and a lever in the battle against poverty. In Asia as well as in Africa up to 85% of employment comes from agriculture – and therefore remains vulnerable to climate and economic shockwaves. And these shockwaves come along together with a recrudescence of malnutrition and an increase of inequalities, and therefore strong social tensions. The recent hunger riots have revealed the need to invest more and more lastingly in the agricultural sector. This is what the international community clearly committed to.
The first Objective of the millennium for development (OMD), solemnly proclaimed in the year 2000 aims at reducing hunger and extreme poverty in the world by 2015. More recently, at the FAO conference on the world food crisis, and at the G8 summit in Japan, a commitment was made to invest 30 billion dollars a year in agriculture. For the purpose of comparison, this amount represents 8% of the OECD countries’ subsidies to their farmers or 2,5% of the world’s expense on arms. We know that food production should double by 2050.
If we respect these commitments in favour of the agricultural sector we will succeed and the Planet will be able to feed its 9 billion inhabitants. But it is urgent to translate these promises into concrete realities. In the new global financial crisis context, budgetary resources will be subject to tough competition. With the relative agricultural prices decrease the temptation will be strong to forget these commitments to rush to the next crisis source. While the fire hatches and risks picking up strongly.
Agriculture must keep its rank as an international priority. It determines the future of some 900 million people who, today, are victims of hunger – and all those who will follow. As the projectors are focused on the financial crisis and its effects, let’s not forget our newspapers’ headings just a few months ago. Will the short term fluctuations again be allowed to overrule our long term strategies? The momentary drop of agricultural raw material prices provides the opportunity to get calmly involved in the adaptation project, so as to prevent any future crisis. Will we take that chance? The international community cannot avoid promoting a policy which it took too long to implement. »
Libération, December 9, 2008. http://www.liberation.fr/
This article is published with the authorization of Liberation; no reproduction is allowed without Liberation’s permission.