'Help developing countries to trade' says FAO

Posted: 21 May 2002

Globalization and the liberalization of trade for agricultural products, as well as the movement of capital and the transfer of technology must be organised in ways which enhance the living conditions of people in both the developed and the developing countries, warns the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General, Jacques Diouf.

"For agriculture in particular, it is essential that the new negotiations under the World Trade Organization should provide the developing countries with greater opportunities to participate in international trade".

Dr Diouf said: "The world still has some 815 million people suffering from chronic malnutrition including 777 million in the developing countries, 27 million in the countries in transition and 11 million in the industrialized countries. The improvement recorded in some countries as parts of the developing world, notably in East Asia, is thus neutralized by the worsening situation in other regions, especially sub-Saharan Africa and Central America and the Caribbean".

Africa is "the only region in the developing world", he said, "where per capita food supply has fallen for the last four years, exposing vast sectors of the population to food insecurity and malnutrition".

Africa has some 200 million people affected by malnutrition. "This is largely due to the limited possibilities of food production for domestic consumption and to poor organization of distribution networks and markets," Dr Diouf said. He warned that the HIV/AIDS epidemic also "constitutes a real threat to agricultural development and food security in Africa. Of the 36 million people infected worldwide, sub-Saharan Africa is the region hardest hit with an affected population of 24.5 million."

Dr Diouf called for increased investment in Africa aimed at rural infrastructure, including small-scale irrigation and the harnessing of rainwater, rehabilitation and conservation of soils, storage and processing facilities, rural roads and markets. "An estimated $37 billion are needed for water control and land improvement infrastructure alone," he warned. But says the African Church Information Service, the poverty level in the African countries has been the undoing factor in their endeavour to participate in trade.

First, these countries have economies with a primitive industrial base for economic development. Secondly, they have a thin base of skilled manpower to spur trade to international standards. Thirdly, most of the economies of the least developed countries are over-reliant on primary production.

African farmers are exposed to unfair competition from the influx of cheap imported agricultural products introduced via structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) through trade liberalization. This influx has exposed millions of people in both urban and rural areas to food insecurity.

In a statement in Fehruary 2002, the churches said the Common Agricultural Policy (of the EU) effectively undermines the products of African Caribbean and the Pacific countries access to the European Market. Duty free access provision was supposed to be non-reciprocal. However, all agricultural exports competing with EU farmers' products were not accorded the free duty status.

Related links:

UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)

Can Trade Help Reduce Poverty in Poor Countries? by the African Church Information Service