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Regional News Mon, 30 Jan 2006

FAO Regional Conference opens

Accra, Jan. 30, GNA - Amid continued threats to Africa's food security, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) convened the 24th Regional Conference for Africa in Bamako, Mali on Monday to examine issues as wide-ranging as African seeds and biotechnology and agrarian reform.

It would examine how to enhance the competitiveness of agriculture and natural resources management in a globalised and liberalized world, and ways to reduce the growing number of fires that endanger agriculture production.

A statement from FAO in Accra on Tuesday said conference documents had noted; "the economic situation in Sub-Saharan Africa remains a serious cause for concern in many respects". The documents call for "urgent action" to implement strategies that would enhance access to agricultural support services and facilities such as credit provision and farm mechanization services technology. FAO noted that good quality seeds were hardly available to farmers, hence the need for Africa to put in place a more robust seed sector development strategy that would guarantee access by farmers to quality seeds.

"FAO has therefore proposed an integrated Seed System Development Programme for Africa to provide a strategic approach to the comprehensive development of the seed sector, taking into account regional and country-level priorities."

One of the many food safety concerns in Africa, according to papers prepared for the Conference, is genetically modified organisms (GMOs). "It has been widely acknowledged that modern biotechnology, if appropriately developed, could offer new and broad potential for contributing to food security.

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"At the same time the speed of genetic change made possible by genetic engineering may represent a new potential impact on the biosphere. These developments, while offering to extend progress in food security, have posed concerns, both real and perceived, about the safety of these technologies, especially in Africa, where legislation on biotechnology and GMOs is lacking and few countries have any regulatory framework concerning GMOs," said one report.

The FAO noted that the continuing need to combat wildfires that destroyed forests and inhibited their natural renewal would also be a major topic at the Conference.

"Foresters recognize that wildfire in Africa often results from legitimate traditional agricultural and livestock management practices, which are being applied with increasing intensity to meet growing food security needs."

According to FAO, the frequency and severity of fires was of concern to both foresters and farmers as the cumulative effect of pasture impoverishment, long-term soil fertility decline, impaired water catchment functions and the use of crop and animal residues as fuel wood substitutes could be summed up in one word - desertification. It said the Conference would also consider the plan put forward by FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, which was approved in November 2005 by the Organization's governing Conference of 190 countries authorizing implementation of the reform proposals related to the decentralization of FAO's structure in Sub-Saharan Africa, where country-level capacities would be strengthened through the establishment of additional national professional officer posts and greater delegation of authority to FAO Country Representatives.

The meeting would also consider the threat of avian flu and the preparedness to combat it as well as the response to a possible outbreak. 31 Jan. 06

Source: GNA
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