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close this bookCERES No. 105/109 - October 1985 (FAO Ceres, 1985, 50 p.)
close this folderInterviews
View the documentPrime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada:
View the documentPrime Minister Zhao Ziyang of China:
View the documentPresident Belisario Betancur of Colombia:
View the documentPresident Mohamed Hosni Mubarak of Egypt:
View the documentPrime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India:
View the documentPresident Suharto of Indonesia:
View the documentPrime Minister Bettino Craxi of Italy:
View the documentPresident Seyni Kountche of Niger:
View the documentPresident Julius K. Nyerere of Tanzania:

President Seyni Kountche of Niger:

“It is necessary to make man the principal factor of development."

Has multilateral aid played a useful role in the support of your development plan, namely in the agriculture and food sectors? What role can it play today in the Sahel as a whole?

It has been said that multilateral aid is double-edged. It is the expression of solidarity among nations, to overcome the great challenges that besiege mankind. It is, for example, the basis of the specialized agencies of the United Nations, and of the many other development aid organizations that were created in the same conditions. Lofty motivations, therefore, and lofty goals. On the other hand, we must recognize that multilateralism suffers from a certain sluggishness, due either to a difference in approach as to ways and means-hence the delays and stagnation in negotiations-or to a tendency toward bureaucratization of procedures. Multilateral aid has nevertheless played a useful role, even a very important one, in the promotion of policies and strategies for development. It can do more if it applies itself to fighting this sluggishness so as to work resolutely toward the betterment and salvation of man.

In this connection, the case of the Sahel is edifying. There has been multi- and bilateral aid ever since sovereignty was recognized by the international community. The Sahel of 1985 scarcely resembles that of 1960. This is a fact. But in view of the difficulties the region is now facing, we are tempted to believe that we are on the wrong track. The models and strategies implemented have sinned by too much inconsistency and outward-oriented efforts. We wanted to change the structures without changing the man of the Sahel, without making him party to the change. Today, we say that it is necessary not only to make him participate but to make him the principal actor of development. In a word, to make him responsible. That is where success lies.

You are also president of CILSS. In that capacity, you recently asked (Geneva, 11-12 March 1985): "How can we explain, in the case of the Sahel for example, that our self sufficiency rate has gone from 98 per cent in 1960 to 65 per cent in 1973, to reach 86 per cent in 1980 and fall again, today, to 65 per cent?" How do you explain it?

The statistics in our possession do reflect this sawtooth evolution, the low points corresponding to the years of very low rainfall. How can we explain this evolution? Let us ask the question another way: why have rural development strategies essentially been based on rainfall instead of promoting models suited to freeing agriculture from the fluctuations of climate?

This fact involves the philosophy of cooperation. A reconversion is necessary to enable the Sahelians to control their environment, to rehabilitate it and to exploit it in all its potential at any season. A good rainy season in 1985 which we wish with all our heart-must not let us forget the lessons of the past. Such was unfortunately the case. And that has to change.

In the Niger, the rural sector accounts for nearly 70 per cent of employment. However, agricultural production is relatively weak. How do you plan to re-establish a well-balanced population/agricultural production ratio?

Of all Sahelian countries, the case of the Niger is one of the most characteristic examples of the consequences of agro-ecological imbalance. Only 12 per cent of our 1.267 million km² are suited to agriculture. Each year, 15 000 km² are threatened by desertification. The instinct for preservation often leads our population to tactical retreats toward the milder south-in some regions, population density can reach 200-250 inhabitants per km². There is an evident risk of overloading and of weakening of lands. We have to reverse this trend. And this is what we have done in two areas.

Control and utilization of surface and subsoil water for reforestation, agriculture and husbandry. Some programmes, associating food and fodder production with tree plantations for wind protection, dune stabilization and fruit production, have already been started. These micro projects are less burdened by recurrent operational costs and can be more easily mastered by the peasants, at the level of management and of dissemination of technical information.

The other area is undoubtedly more complex: the promotion of family health through information and awareness in the areas of mother and child care, family planning, education, and integration of young people into society. This is obviously a long-term action, whose objective is not to stop population growth but to reconcile it with the economic growth of the nation.

Does being a land-locked country present particular food supply problems?

We have the best of relations with our transit countries. Food products have even become objects of particular good will and vigilance on the part of these countries.

But there are problems linked to the capacity of the ports and the insufficiency and inadequacy of communication means (rails, roads, and infrastructures) and of transport means. Judge for yourself: Agadez is 2 000 km from Cotonou. N'guigmi, on the edge of Lake Chad, is 1500 km from the Nigerian ports of Lagos and Calabar. When you think that the 350 000 metric tons which the Niger is expecting from the international community are sent in 25- to 35-ton truck - you can understand the difficulties of being land-locked.

Do you think that the revenues from mining (notably uranium) can help the Niger to increase the productivity of its agriculture?

Such has been our policy and such it will remain as long as uranium is a source of income for the Niger. We have been proclaiming since 1974 that the Niger's resources are are will remain national resources and that they must serve the cause of national development. And if we have, very quickly, survived the drought of the 1970s, it is in large part due to our export revenue. Enormous sums of money-obtained from uranium, have been invested in rural development. We will pursue this path with the adjustments and the change of focus that our past experience imposes on US.

Water is without doubt what is needed most in the Sahel, at least usable water, since millions of cubic metres lie unused in the subsoil. Do you think that a large-scale coordinated water policy is possible and desirable in the Sahel?

The salvation of the Sahel lies in water management. Now, the Sahel has enormous potential: good or bad year, our rivers, lakes, and streams carry 130 billion cm. With proper management, the Sahel could obtain two million hectares of irrigated land: less than 200 000 are now cultivated, scarcely a tenth of the potential.

Groundwater represents some 3 500 trillion cm3. It has been shown that tapping 1 to 15 billion would not disturb the balance of the groundwater level and would cover, by means of wells and boreholes, human and pastoral needs.

But it is necessary, beyond isolated national programmes, for the states of the Sahel to coordinate their water management activities. Works upstream invariably have consequences farther down a watercourse. An over exploited groundwater can cause immeasurable damages to a river basin. Coordination helps preserve the balance. We have to achieve this. It is highly desirable, and it is possible. Last April, we held two consecutive summits, that of the riparian states of the Niger river and that of the riparian states of Lake Chad. In both cases, we can draw the same conclusion: with the drought threatening the water potential of the Sahel, only a large-scale water policy, well formulated, coordinated and articulated, can allow all the states of the region to benefit from the immense quantities of water that are being lost, jeopardizing the supply to our urban centres. The commitment to work jointly and effectively toward the management of the basins of the Niger river and of Lake Chad has been made. The same approach is valid for all the watercourses of Africa. The international community must be made aware of this and assist the governments and peoples of Africa who fight for food self-sufficiency and socio-economic progress.

The Niger has mobilized its youth in Samaria to plant trees, build schools, work toward mutual aid and solidarity. Do you think that this example (and the accumulated experience) can be transferred to other countries to help them mobilize their youth for development?

In the matter of mobilization, the example of the Niger is not unique, even if it has some specific characteristics. What we are saying is that Africa, in its diversity, is still looking for development models. None of the classic, universally known theories is transferable as is to Africa. Poor in infrastructure, Africa is rich in potential-rich also, fortunately, in its moral and social values, to whose depths it should delve and seek the development models that correspond to modern requirements and challenges.

Samaria, in the Niger, is the result of a profound return to the socio-cultural heritage of our people. It reconciles the citizen of the Niger, his past and his present with his aspirations. It is solidarity, a social value that has chosen to express itself as a force of progress, as a platform of mobilization and of unanimous and spontaneous participation in the work of national construction. Samaria represents today an essential element in our development strategy. My vow is to see African youth mobilize everywhere, to unite in action and in thought to construct Africa, to safeguard its moral and spiritual values and to translate into facts its most cherished ambitions of peace, dignity, and prosperity.

Such a plan involves African youth. But besides Africa, it involves all the nations of the world, if they care about peace and justice and are concerned about the fate of mankind. Because hunger threatens the very equilibrium of the world. The year 1985 has shown us that the war against hunger is far from being won. The 40th anniversary of FAO gives me the opportunity to restate the commitment of the Niger and of the peoples of the Sahel to the fundamental objectives which its founders assigned to it in 1945.