Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me begin by expressing our deep appreciation and gratitude to our gracious hosts, the Government and People of Namibia.
We have had a rich discussion over the past few days – and produced a strong statement of priorities for negotiation by the Commission on Sustainable Development at its 17th Session.
We will head to the policy session with a deeper understanding of what is needed: to address the structural difficulties facing African agriculture; to ensure food security throughout the continent; to boost crop yields on a sustainable basis; to improve management of agricultural land and of scarce water resources; to integrate Africa’s agriculture more fully into global markets; and to produce higher value products to lift rural living standards.
We must move swiftly now. Our discussion has underscored the urgency of revolutionizing African agriculture, given the daily toll that poverty and hunger take on human lives and human potential. Each hungry child or expecting mother is a life short-changed. Hunger further weakens the many farmers already burdened by debilitating diseases and poor health. This makes it that much harder to boost productivity. The vicious cycle of poverty, hunger, ill health and low productivity can and must be broken.
This will require resolve and resources – from Africa and its development partners. More resources, both public and private, must be put into agricultural R&D in Africa. As with the first Green Revolution, the contribution of philanthropic foundations also needs to be acknowledged and encouraged. More must be invested in rural infrastructure. More must be devoted to rural health care and education, to boost human productivity.
Given the severe resource constraints Africa faces, every effort must be made to stretch available resources, to use them as smartly and efficiently as possible. Here an educated population can make a difference, together with transparent and accountable government.
African farmers have proven their ability to eke out a living in harsh conditions. They have demonstrated deep knowledge of the land and entrepreneurial skills. Yet, their ability to earn a decent living continues to be blocked by adverse physical, institutional and policy environments.
Policies to support African agriculture must be strengthened, both nationally and internationally.
At the international level, we must ensure that African farmers have free and fair access to world agricultural markets, and that they have the means to respond to new market opportunities. This will require significant progress in international trade negotiations, as well as favourable terms in bilateral agreements. It will require technical support to build institutional capacity for product testing and certification, as well as financial support for investment in critical infrastructure.
In the midst of the global financial and economic crisis, there is a real risk that these needs will go unmet. We must ensure that does not happen. As leaders some of the richest and largest economies in the world discuss national stimulus plans, we must insist not only that these are internationally coordinated; they must also be accompanied by intensified support for vulnerable countries and vulnerable populations – a group which certainly would include most African farmers. This message must be carried not only to the upcoming Commission on Sustainable Development, but also to the other high-level fora to be held this year to address the unfolding crisis.
I wish you all a safe trip back home and every success in your efforts in support of African agriculture, in this, the year of the hardworking ox.