Food Security, Violent Conflict, Return of Coups among Challenges Requiring Resolute Action, Deputy Secretary-General Tells African Union Summit

1 July 2009
DSG/SM/465-AFR/1866

Food Security, Violent Conflict, Return of Coups among Challenges Requiring Resolute Action, Deputy Secretary-General Tells African Union Summit

1 July 2009
Deputy Secretary-General
DSG/SM/465 AFR/1866
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

food security, violent conflict, return of coups among challenges requiring

resolute action, Deputy Secretary-General tells African Union summit

Following is UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s address to the Thirteenth Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in Sirte, Libya, today, 1 July:

I bring warm greetings to you from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.  It is a great privilege to represent him at this important Summit.

I am grateful to Brother Leader Colonel [Muammar] Qaddafi, as well as the Government and people of Libya for their warm reception and hospitality.  I should also like to take this opportunity to commend AU Chairperson Qaddafi for his leadership of the African Union, and Chairperson [Jean] Ping for his steadfast stewardship of the African Union Commission.  It is also fitting that I congratulate Dr. Ali Treiki for his election as the next President of the General Assembly, a tribute to Libya and to Africa.

Earlier this year, the African Union met to discuss the continent’s infrastructure needs.  Today, we gather to address the critical role of agriculture in creating economic growth and food security.

Africa faces challenges on several fronts.  The world remains gripped in the most severe economic crisis in 60 years.  Food and fuel prices remain high and volatile.  The effects of climate change are growing more pronounced.  Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) remains too slow.  The scourge of non-constitutional changes in authority is returning, just when we thought this was a thing of the past.  And violent conflicts continue to imperil the lives of many.  These challenges demand resolute action from all of us.

Clearly, we meet at a critical time.  More than half of all Africans currently live in extreme poverty.  We must use this Summit to mobilize action to protect the poorest and most vulnerable -— and prevent more from joining their ranks.

Since time immemorial, agriculture has been the cornerstone of development in every region, not just in Africa.  Although the share of Africans living in urban areas has doubled since 1965, 70 per cent of Africans still live in rural surroundings.  They depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, most at subsistence levels.  The benefits of investing in agriculture are clear.  Agricultural investment creates jobs.  It can make economic growth more durable.  And it can increase food and nutritional security.

Agricultural investment can also have a profound impact on social equality, particularly by improving the situation of women, who account for the bulk of smallholder farmers in Africa.  Empowering women smallholder farmers should be part of a broader commitment to ensure women play leadership roles across our economic, political and social development fields.

By some estimates, a dollar invested in agriculture in Africa has a two or three times greater impact on poverty than the same amount invested in other sectors.  And yet, until recently, agriculture has often been neglected in national development strategies.  The results of this neglect are clear.  Food continues to cost more than it should, and prices continue to fluctuate.  In fact, many prices remain higher than the poorest can afford.

Two hundred sixty-five million people in sub-Saharan Africa currently go hungry —- an increase of almost 12 per cent over last year.  Children bear the brunt of this burden.  Close to half of all children in sub-Saharan Africa are underweight for their age.  Malnutrition can permanently stunt their prospects for survival, growth and long-term development.  This already appalling situation is expected to get worse.  The United Nations projects that the rate of economic growth in Africa will be only 0.9 per cent in 2009, down from 4.9 per cent in 2008.  Poverty as a whole will rise by 1.2 per cent in 2009 compared to 2008.

We should all be alarmed by these numbers.  We must do all we can to address them by giving agriculture the attention it deserves.  We know where the problems lie.  For instance, only 7 per cent of arable land in Africa is irrigated, compared with nearly 40 per cent in Asia and 20 per cent globally.  Fertilizer is barely used on depleted soils.  Climate-adapted seed varieties are scarce.  And planted acreage appears to be falling.

We also know what needs to be done.  African ministers rightly called for a sustainable green revolution earlier this year in Windhoek.   Malawi, for example, shows us what can be achieved when good policies are backed by adequate resources.  Less than a decade ago, Malawi was hit by famine.  Today, Malawi is a food exporter.  Other countries have also recorded great successes.  We need to replicate these transformations across the continent. 

The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) provides a solid framework for action.  We need to ensure that every African country has a national strategy for agricultural development.  To deliver on CAADP’s promise, countries still need to follow through on the Maputo Declaration’s pledge to raise agricultural spending to 10 per cent of their national budgets.  Though the 2008 target year has passed, current conditions amply justify the continued pursuit of this goal.

Donors, working with Africa’s farmers, will also need to step up their support.  The Secretary-General’s MDG Africa Steering Group estimated that an increase in annual agricultural aid —- from its current levels of 1 to 2 billion dollars per year to 8 billion dollars —- would allow Africa to meet the goal of halving extreme poverty.  This is a great deal of money, but some perspective is in order.  Against the trillions in liquidity marshalled to combat the financial crisis, increased aid to African agriculture is eminently feasible.  Moreover, the Steering Group’s work with 10 initial countries on the “Gleneagles Scenarios”, based on the G8’s pledge to more than double aid to Africa, has showed that scaled-up aid can be absorbed and spent without compromising macroeconomic stability.

The Secretary-General’s High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Crisis is working with other mechanisms to help donors deliver this financing in a coherent fashion.  Indeed, aid remains critical.  The global economic crisis has reduced export revenues, cut remittances, sliced tourism revenues and lowered capital flows.  Aid is one of the few financing sources left.

At the same time, aid alone is unlikely to meet all of Africa’s needs.  As the Danish Africa Commission and the Aid for Trade Initiative have highlighted, private capital can play a key role in processing raw commodities, creating value chains, building transportation networks and ensuring more food makes it to market.  But inward investment must be consistent with country-led priorities and poverty reduction.  This is why the African Union’s work on a Framework and Guidelines for Land Policies is so timely.

Private capital is especially important for Africa since trade accounts for 60 per cent of total income.  In this light, we must not only resist protectionism, but also continue to break down the substantial trade barriers between African countries.  Tackling climate change must also be a top priority.  Left unaddressed, climate change will make our efforts to support agriculture and reduce hunger more expensive and more difficult.  Indeed, climate change strikes at the heart of Africa’s key development concerns:  clean energy, better water, reduced disease incidence and increased food security.  

For all these reasons, we need to seal a deal on a new climate agreement in Copenhagen this December.  A fresh global agreement would help African countries adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.  Urgent action is needed from all countries.  Industrialized countries should commit to substantial cuts in emissions.  They also need to provide adequate and predictable financing to developing countries for mitigation and adaptation. This funding should be additional to current aid commitments —- not a substitute.

Global solidarity will be required in Copenhagen.  As we all know, the people who suffer most from the effects of climate change -— many of whom live here in Africa —- have had the smallest hand in creating this problem.  This inequity must be addressed under a new climate agreement.  The Secretary-General is counting on your full support to make Copenhagen a success.

We know that the challenges we face will continue to evolve.  And our understanding of them will need to be constantly updated.   This is why Secretary-General Ban has asked me to mobilize the United Nations family to create a Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System.  This system will give us a real-time picture of emerging challenges as they develop, country to country, village to village.  Armed with better data, we can respond more quickly and with greater focus.

A stronger agricultural sector is a prerequisite for a brighter future for Africa and its people.  But even as we focus on food security, we remain mindful of the daunting challenges to peace and political stability faced by some African nations.  The United Nations, in close collaboration with the African Union, and other regional and subregional organizations, will spare no effort to bring about lasting peace and security throughout Africa.  We must act resolutely together to end the scourge of violence and conflict that still bedevils our beloved continent. 

In Somalia, Secretary-General Ban is seriously concerned by the continuing violence.  He strongly condemns the ongoing attempts by insurgent groups to overthrow the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that is open to include all.  This Government represents the most viable option for peace and national reconciliation.

We cannot afford its collapse, nor can we allow the Djibouti peace process to unravel.  We urge Member States to fulfil the pledges they made in Brussels last April to provide bilateral assistance to the Transitional Federal Government and the support it needs.  In particular, the TFG needs adequate funds to sustain its forces in Mogadishu.  At the same time, we must work together to mobilize additional troops for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  For its part, the United Nations Security Council has decided to provide logistical support to AMISOM and we are in the process of delivering it.

In the Sudan, the challenges to the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and peace in Darfur are well known.  Elections and the referendum in the South are approaching.  Yet, many obstacles to their successful conduct remain unresolved.  The United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur and the African Union Mission in Somalia show that we can advance the cause of peace when we build on the comparative advantages of our organizations.  But nothing will change for the people of Somalia, who have suffered so deeply and for so long, unless their leaders and their subregional neighbours begin to look beyond short-term self-interest.  Confrontation cannot bring peace and stability to Somalia -— only cooperation can.  Without it, Somalia’s agony will endure, blighting its people and imperilling the subregion.

In Madagascar, we continue to support an inclusive and consensual political process leading to credible elections.  We welcome the Southern African Development Community's decision to appoint former President Joachim Chissano to facilitate talks between the Malagasy parties.  We look forward to working with him.

As we strive to resolve the Malagasy crisis, the African Union, United Nations, Southern African Development Community and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie must maintain a concerted approach and convey a common message to the parties involved.  But the future of Madagascar is ultimately in the hands of the Malagasy people themselves.  They must exhibit the leadership and vision to move Madagascar decisively beyond its recent cycle of extra-constitutional change.   

We see reasons for hope coming from the recent progress in the Great Lakes Region.  The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Congrès national pour la défense du peuple showed courage in coming together, on 23 March, to pledge themselves to peace.  The reconciliation between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda displays equal bravery.  We are particularly grateful for the efforts of former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Benjamin Mkapa, as well as the vital support of regional leaders, in helping to bring about these major developments.  This has been a shining example of the results that concerted regional leadership can accomplish.

But our work is not yet done.  The commitments made on 23 March must be made real.  The improvement in regional relations must be deepened and consolidated. And those leaders of armed groups who still refuse the call of peace -— such as Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony -— must know that the world will hold them accountable for their acts.

In West Africa, the United Nations, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union are working to ensure lasting peace and reconstruction in Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.  We are also involved in restoring constitutional order in Mauritania and Guinea.

In Mauritania, our joint efforts culminated in the 26 June decree establishing a Transitional Government of National Unity.  It is our hope that this will lead to credible elections and pave the way for the consolidation of democracy.  Likewise in Guinea, our joint efforts in support of the country’s transitional process have intensified through various mechanisms, including the International Contact Group on Guinea.  The outcome of the fourth session of the Group, which was held here in Sirte on 27 June, clearly indicates our commitment to the restoration of constitutional order in Guinea.

The African Union’s unwavering rejection of unconstitutional changes in government -— combined with the determination of Africa’s peoples —- has driven each of these encouraging developments.  But we can do more to bring peace to Africa.  I exhort this august assembly of leaders to seek the early support of the United Nations, this Union, other regional organizations, and other third parties, to help defuse disputes before they turn violent.  Prevention is so much better than any cure. 

There are no easy solutions.  We have seen how quickly the hope offered by elections can degenerate into death and destruction.  In the next few years, African Member States will witness an historic number of trips to the polls.  We must work together now to ensure that these electoral processes are conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner that helps build the stable and prosperous Africa to which this Union is pledged.  But elections are not enough to build an ever-more peaceful and stable Africa.  The effects of climate change, rapid urban growth, unemployment and food insecurity can all create tension and open conflict.

Cooperation in dealing with these challenges must be our watchword going forward:  we need to strengthen global collaboration -— and build a new multilateralism that delivers results for all, not just a fortunate few.  This will require strong leadership from all sides -— from both African Governments and their international counterparts.  The United Nations will continue to be your constant partner in this endeavour.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.