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Burkina Faso Conference Highlights Need for Food Security

A conference to try and improve agriculture across the African continent concluded that drought, the AIDS epidemic and environmental degradation have made it difficult to improve people's access to food on the continent.

Government officials from 15 African countries and representatives of non-governmental organizations attended the five-day conference, held in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou.

They shared the successes and failures of agricultural practices in their home countries, and discussed challenges to farming in Africa.

A representative from the South African Ministry of Agriculture, Johannes Malaseomaru, said the purpose of the conference was not to copy agricultural methods used in Europe or America, but to adapt successful practices to Africa.

"This is about basically getting some new ideas, and seeing how they fit into the African context," said Mr. Malaseomaru. "It's not a blue-print translation of what is happening in other countries, and putting it in Africa."

Africa's agricultural sector faces pressing problems, including lack of water resource management, inadequate infrastructure and environmental degradation, which prevent people from having access to adequate food. Delegates discussed ways to improve harvests, without depending on high cost fertilizers and expensive irrigation methods.

A delegate from Zambia, Matua Lobo, who works in the southern Zambian provinces, helping vulnerable people benefit from agriculture, says that it is imperative that agriculture improve, so the continent can address food insecurity. He says hunger also is rising in Southern Africa because of the high rate of HIV/AIDS infection.

"Most of the countries are devastated by HIV/AIDS and droughts. There are bad harvests, so we are attempting to do irrigation, so we can at least have good harvests," added Mr. Lobo.

HIV/AIDS causes many households to spend limited funds on heath care, instead of agriculture, and also causes a shortage of labour in countries with high rates of infection.

Other main points of discussion included how to bring together various activities, such as education and access to health facilities, which also have an effect on agriculture and development.

According to the United Nations World Food Program, one in three Africans is malnourished. Recently, food shortages were high-lighted in Niger, partly caused by drought and massive swarms of locusts. The United Nations secretary general has called for debt relief, increased aid and measures to make the international trade system more favourable to the poor, to help encourage local agricultural production in Africa.