I would first like to align myself with the statement made by the His Excellency the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition of Slovenia on behalf of the European Union.
Secondly, I would like to acknowledge many successful aspects of last week's discussions on the thematic issues of Agriculture, Rural development, Land, Drought, Desertification, and Africa and its sustainable development which integrate the current implementation cycle and are subject to review during this 16th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-16).
Portugal remains strongly convinced that global challenges in these and other thematic areas can only be addressed through multilateral discussions and that the CSD, as a rather unique multi-stakeholder forum, has a critical and decisive role in promoting sustainable development in an integrated manner at the global level.
The rural world is one of the most significant features in Europe and plays a key role in the European Union (EU) development model. Rural areas1 account for 92% of the territory and 56% of the population. Although most economic activity is concentrated in urban areas, rural areas still generate 45% of the whole economy GVA (Gross Value Added) and 51% of the employment2.
In Portugal, rural areas occupy 85.4% of the territory, while agro-forestry areas account for 75%. The latter are quite relevant for the country's development, particularly when associated with a state-of-the-art industry that enhances the quality of the raw materials produced (cork, paper pulp, particle board, etc.).
In addition to agri-food production, the rural world also supports other activities, either economic, such as those related to tourism and leisure, or environmental, such as the maintenance and protection of natural values.
All these activities are based on the production of a set of goods and services associated with the use and management of native resources and with the presence of people in the territory. These goods and services preserve natural and socio-cultural values, maintain overall biodiversity and are crucial in shaping the landscape.
Therefore, following the EU/European agricultural model, Portugal has reinforced the multifunctional nature of the agri-food production sector, by fostering its economic role, as producer of market goods, its environmental role, as service provider and manager of resources and territories, and its social role, through the activities and income it integrates.
In our modern world, references and values are changing at an increasing pace, involving the society as a whole. The agricultural sector reflects this increasing pace, namely with the emergence of new products, markets and consumers, by inducing an increasing demand in agricultural raw materials and foodstuffs.
In this context, and in order to ensure the sustainability of the rural world, it is crucial to uphold the values of safety, quality and sustainability, and to introduce and develop technologies promoting a more efficient use of resources.
The rational use of resources, namely water and soil, is promoted and induced by the adoption of policies including incentive mechanisms, such as cross-compliance and agri-environmental measures, which encourage the adoption of good practices, as well as by the introduction of regulations affecting the use of resources.
The incorporation of environmental and resource utilisation costs (laid down in our National Water Law, for instance) is yet another way of inducing the rational use of resources.
Portugal's geography is prone to the occurrence of droughts, so this phenomenon is not viewed as an extreme event but rather as an endemic part of climate itself. A number of measures that have been put in place have proven to be successful in dealing with the serious difficulties posed by multi-year droughts. The improvement of actions to minimise the consequences of drought events implies looking at the problem in a new manner, focused on prevention, pro-activity and mitigation, through the implementation of risk management principles and timely interventions to reduce vulnerability to the impacts of droughts.
In Portugal, the overlap between regions with high conservation value (the Natura 2000 network3, which accounts for 2% of the Portuguese territory) and areas with agro-forestry systems led to a strategy of Integrated Territorial Interventions (ITI).
Rural development is also a key issue in the Lisbon Strategy. The European Union acts with a view to promoting sustainability and competitiveness, by emphasising training, research, innovation and diversification as key development factors.
Within this context, there is a large consensus regarding the need to orient production to the market and to meet consumer expectations, by guaranteeing high confidence levels in product quality, as well as regarding the key role that attractive, dynamic regions can play in the sustainable performance of the agri-food sector4. Thus, by contributing to the sustainability of rural territories, the agricultural policy supports the agricultural sector, while fostering diversification and innovation in rural areas.
The EU initiative LEADER+5 promotes integrated approaches, designed and implemented by active partnerships operating at local level, while encouraging rural agents to reflect on the potential of their territories and to apply innovative strategies of sustainable development, integrating the valorisation of the natural and cultural heritage, the strengthening of the economic environment and the improvement of the organisational capacity of their communities.
In Portugal, under LEADER+, an integrated approach is being implemented through 52 partnerships (Local Action Groups), each operating in a specific area, and also through cooperation projects involving other territories, both at national and transnational level. Results in terms of diversification and innovation in rural areas are self-evident. On par with these new dynamics, the certification, promotion and marketing of quality regional products are an opportunity for local businesses and producers, from a perspective of sustainable development, respecting environmental and cultural values.
Slovenia and the European Commission have presented, on behalf of the EU, in all of the thematic issues dealt with in this CSD-16/CSD-17 cycles a comprehensive overview of all the policies adopted in the field of agriculture and rural development, I take this opportunity to reiterate Portugal's commitment in tackling the challenges ahead, regarding both the full accomplishment of the objectives of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI), where agriculture and rural development play a key role, and the pledge to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The current food crisis should remind us that only a small part of the world production - 7% of rice and 15% of cereals - is channelled into the world trade. This means that most of the world's food production is consumed in the producing countries thus reflecting domestic patterns and cost structures. The responses to this crisis create a window of opportunity for the expansion of domestic production, which is, in our opinion, the only way to smoothen the effect of the volatility of international food prices. In this context, more investment in the agricultural sector is needed to ensure this needed increase in production.
We would also like to reiterate our confidence in the implementation of the first strategic action plan for a partnership between Africa and the European Union, adopted last year in Lisbon, last December.
The EU-Africa Lisbon Summit not only approved a strategy and a plan of action between two continents but, and in the words of our Prime Minister Jose Socrates, it has created a new spirit of cooperation, loyalty and equality among States, aimed at ensuring concrete delivery on the new political and developmental ambitions.
This session of the CSD has emphasised the special needs of Africa, where sustainable development still remains an elusive reality, as well as many of the challenges with which we are confronted in the areas of Agriculture, Rural development, Land, Drought and Desertification.
It is now up to all of us to show the world that the CSD is not just another rethorical collection of statements and nice talks.
Therefore I would like to hence reiterate our commitment to engage constructively for ensuring an action-orientated outcome at CSD17.
Thank you very much Mr. Chaiman.
1 It includes predominantly rural and intermediate areas, according to the OECD methodology.
2 Rural Development in the European Union - Statistical and Economic Information - Report 2006, EU, DG Agriculture and Rural Development.
3 Nature 2000 Network is an EUwide network of sites related to nature protection areas established under the 1992 "Habitats Directive", adopted by the European Union governments to protect the most seriously threatened habitats and species across Europe. Natura 2000 applies to Bird Sites and to Habitat Sites, which are divided into biogeographical regions. It also applies to the marine environment.
4 Informal Meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers, Mainz, 20-22 May 2007.
5 Leader+ is one of four initiatives financed by EU structural funds and is designed to help rural actors consider the long-term potential of their local region. Encouraging the implementation of integrated, high-quality and original strategies for sustainable development, it has a strong focus on partnership and networks of exchange of experience. A total of EUR 5 046.5 million for the period 2000-2006 will be spent, of which EUR 2 105.1 million is funded by the EAGGF Guidance section and the remainder by public and private contributions.