Speech delivered by Ms. Susan N. Ngongi, on WFD and IDEP 2017

Oct 20, 2017

Ms. Susan N. Ngongi, UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Eritrea. ©UNDPEritrea/Mwaniki

Excellency, Minister of Agriculture;
Excellencies, Ministers of the State of Eritrea;
Excellencies, Ambassadors and members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Distinguished Guests;
UN colleagues;
Kemey Hadirkum
I am very pleased to be with you today as we jointly commemorate World Food Day and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, observed today 16 October and tomorrow 17 October, respectively.
I thank the Ministry of Agriculture for convening us all here today for this event. 

Food security and poverty eradication are fundamentally linked.  During the era of the MDGs, they were wrapped up in the same goal, MDG 1. Today the global community has separated them into two separate goals and increased our collective level of ambition on how much further we should aim our efforts.

The global theme for this year’s World Food Day celebration is “Change the future of Migration: invest in food security and rural development”.

And the theme for The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is: Answering the call of October 17 to end poverty: A path towards peaceful and inclusive societies’. The themes of both days are relevant to Eritrea.

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
Poverty on the other hand is about not having enough money to buy food of adequate quality and quantity (that said, I am sure we would all agree poverty has many other faces – such as being sick and not being able to see the doctor. Or not knowing how to read and write. Not having a job, unable to cater for one’s family. Poverty has many ugly faces.) 

Reducing poverty is a key element in any policy for food security, because poor people spend a large share of their incomes on food, leaving them vulnerable to high food prices. In addition, many poor people obtain much of their income from farming, leaving them vulnerable to declines in agricultural output.

Reassuringly, both enhancing food security and eradicating poverty are already clearly prioritised by the Government and I understand these issues to be the cornerstone of the development agenda of the Government of the State of Eritrea.  

Government is already investing significantly in Agriculture – including agro pastoral activities and fisheries - which employs the majority of Eritreans. Government has been investing heavily in rural areas, where poverty is concentrated, with the construction of dams and ponds and support for livelihood activities.

I congratulate the Government for these investments. Ensuring support to Agriculture is critical for poverty eradication efforts. If most people, including most poor people are engaged in agriculture, investments that make agricultural activity profitable, will impact many lives and have the potential to lead to transformational change. 

Even with the high level of investments and overall progress towards improving the agricultural sector and reducing poverty – and against the backdrop of a very encouraging MDG performance – plenty of challenges remain and much more needs to be done. 

As Government continues to implement its plans with its current partnerships, perhaps a catalyst towards greater / faster results could be even broader and deeper partnerships. “Shirkennet”. 

“Shirkennet” – I am sure my pronunciation doesn’t do justice to the word. My understanding however is that this is the word for partnership in Tigrinya.
Not mere collaboration where 1+1 = 2 but partnership where 1+1= 2+

Deep, broad partnership are critical. The 2030 & 2063 agendas both recognise multi-stakeholder partnerships as important vehicles for mobilizing and sharing knowledge, expertise, technologies and financial resources to support the achievement of development goals in all countries.  No government can do it alone and we need ever deeper and broader partnerships to navigate the complexities of development in today’s context.

The SPCF that the United Nations in Eritrea and the Government of the State of Eritrea have agreed upon provides a good basis for “shirkennet”. Honourable Minister, please be assured that the UN family in Eritrea are your committed partners and we look forward to exploring ways of deepening our partnership.

The UN however is only a subset of Government’s partners, there are many others - , the Development Banks, Friendly Governments, private sector, civil society etc.  It might be profitable to deepen & broaden partnerships with some of these actors as well.

Reflected in both agendas 2030 and 2063, globally now recognise our key development goals are all interconnected – Food, Poverty eradication, Education, Health, Employment, Energy, a healthy environment etc. Tackling these issues requires a “whole of Government approach”. Perhaps a national plan that spells out Government’s intended development results and highlights key areas of synergy and cooperation among sectors, a plan that simultaneously guides all Government Sectors and all partners might be useful.  Many countries across the globe are indeed developing similar national plans, integrating the 2030/2063 agenda goals. 

I cannot end my speech at an event such as this and not mention climate change. Considering what we are experiencing globally, this has to be factored into all development activities.

For a lay person like myself, one of the indicators of climate change is the weather variability. In my native Cameroon and the 2 or 3 countries I served in before Eritrea, I have observed increasingly erratic weather patterns. Once upon a time in Cameroon, and Ghana and Comoros, one could regulate their activities by the timing of the rains. Their arrival, duration and abundance was predictable. Nowadays, it’s confusing.  The rains sometimes come early. Other times late. Sometimes they come at the expected level of abundance, other times, not. It is very confusing and many agricultural systems are not equipped enough to cope with this variability.  I have not been here long enough to know how the Eritrean rains behave – I hope better! -  but considering the patterns elsewhere, I would not be surprised if they too are increasingly unpredictable. Climate change is something that must be heavily factored on all development plans, all sectors, especially Agriculture. We need to carry out climate change activities at scale and cannot overstate the importance of climate change adaptation and mitigation action.

To conclude, I have no doubt that Eritrea will be successful in implementing the SDG’s, especially considering the success with the MDG’s. As this happens, there will be expectations towards Eritrea to play an ever-greater role in providing regional solutions to the pressing development challenges highlighted in today’s I look forward in being part of you in these development efforts.

Thank you – Yekenyelei!
Brkh  Mahlti!

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