The Prime Minister of Togo, His Excellency Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, opened a high-level inter-ministerial meeting on regional food crises in Lome on Tuesday, 5th June 2012, with a strong appeal for urgent action to address the root causes of recurrent food and nutritional deficiencies in the Sahel and West Africa.
"The time has come to act, and to act in a concerted manner to deal with the real and root causes of food crises in our region," the Prime Minister affirmed. "We must put in place sustainable mechanism including mobilization of coordinated financial solutions to ensure consistency and efficiency for the sustainable economic development of our region based on improved agricultural production."
He said the coordination and cooperation should be under the ECOWAS leadership to facilitate intra-Community trade and ensure unfettered movement of food items between countries with surplus and those facing deficiency.
The Prime Minister noted that while about 60 per cent of West Africa's population are involved in agriculture, a sector that also accounts for 40 per cent of regional wealth, citizens in the region were yet to reap the benefits of the African Union's 2003 Maputo Declaration requiring African countries to devote 10 per cent of national allocations to agriculture and food security.
According to him, Member States of ECOWAS, the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and the Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS), including Chad and Mauritania, have already recorded nine per cent reduction in cereal production this year compared to the 2010-2011 crop season.
The food situation, he said, had been aggravated by the political crisis in Mali, a spill-over effect of the conflict in Libya. In his remarks, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, His Excellency Kadré Désire Ouédraogo, called for urgent measures by Member States, financial and technical partners to arrest food insecurity which usually reaches a peak in July in West Africa.
Quoting figures from humanitarian agencies, he said between 13 million and 16 million people were already facing food insecurity in the region, especially in the Sahel belt with adverse consequences on the population and seasonal livestock movement for grazing (transhumance). The nine most affected countries are Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Senegal, Chad and Mauritania.
While commending the United Nations and various financial and technical partners for their bilateral cooperation and support, President Ouédraogo called for effective preventive measures, strengthening of national agricultural investment plans, various regional programmes and robust implementation of the ECOWAS and UEMOA agricultural policies.
The region, he said, should also intensify efforts for putting in place a regional reserve to nip the recurring food crises in the bud.
Expressing a similar sentiment in his welcome address, the President of the UEMOA Commission, His Excellency Cheikhe Hadjibou Soumare, noted that lack of funding constituted the greatest hindrance to the attainment of food security in West Africa.
He therefore called for international support for national and regional initiatives including the work of the UEMOA high-level committee on food security headed by the President of Niger, His Excellency Issoufou Mahamadou, charged with proffering lasting solutions to food crises in West Africa.
The one-day inter-ministerial meeting co-financed by the ECOWAS and UEMOA Commissions is considering the report of regional experts who met in Lome on Monday, 4th June, and will feed into upcoming summits of regional leaders for urgent regional actions.
The aim is to extract commitments at the highest level to ensure free movement of foodstuffs in the region, mobilization of adequate financial resources through increased national budgetary allocations from 2013 to finance investment programmes, and to put in place effective preventive measures against food insecurity in the region.
The high-level meetings attended by Member States of ECOWAS, UEMOA, CILSS, including Chad and Mauritania, as well as representatives of financial and technical partners, observed one-minute silence for victims of last Sunday's plane crash that killed more than 150 people in Nigeria.