Sunday, July 01, 2007
By Kingsley Kaswende in Cape Town, South Africa
Tuesday June 26, 2007 [13:46]
Africa has the singular and tragic distinction of being the only place in the world where overall food security and livelihoods are deteriorating. Over the last 15 years, the number of Africans living below the poverty datum line of US$1 a day has increased by 50 per cent, according to modest estimates, and it is estimated that one-third of the continent’s population suffers from hunger.
In the past five years alone, the number of underweight children in Africa has risen by about 12 per cent.
Crop and cereal yields have been stagnant while per capita food production has steadily declined. Additionally, the capacity for many communities to feed themselves is under threat from global climatic change.
Africa’s food imports are projected to rise from US $6.5 billion to US $11 billion by 2020.
But does it have to be that way? Doesn’t Africa have the capacity to change this?
It is general knowledge that root cause of this entrenched and deepening poverty is that millions of small-scale farmers—the majority of them women working in farms smaller than one hectare-cannot grow and sell enough food to sustain their families, their communities, or their countries.
The challenges confronting Africa’s small-scale farmers start in the field and extend across the entire agricultural value chain.
Most African farmers can neither access nor afford basic farm inputs such as high-yielding seeds, organic and mineral fertilisers needed to replenish depleted soils, or simple water management systems to allow farmers to deal with erratic rains.
In addition, good roads are scarce. Also lacking are strong market, extension, and finance systems. Small-scale farmers today also need support from government policies that promote sustainable and productive African agriculture, and that ensure that farmers can get access to markets.
Due to these challenges, African leaders are calling for a revolution in agriculture that will enable the continent’s small-scale farmers to prosper.
Many African leaders have spoken about what is involved in launching a uniquely African Green Revolution—a revolution that looks to improved agricultural production as the basis of a larger effort to take Africa confidently into a new era of sustainable development; a revolution that improves the lives of farmers and delivers greater opportunity, enterprise and prosperity.
It is also for this reason that the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was formed.
Based in Nairobi, the African-led AGRA is a dynamic partnership working across the continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger.
The alliance had a privilege, at the just ended World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, to engage former United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan as its chairman.
It is AGRA that will spearhead the Green Revolution in Africa, which has received the support of many African leaders.
Its programmes develop practical solutions to dramatically boost farm productivity and incomes while safeguarding the environment and biodiversity.
To achieve this goal, the alliance will focus on key aspects of African agriculture: From seeds, soil health and water, to markets, agricultural education and policy.”
“It is very clear that we cannot pull our people out of poverty without the green revolution, without agriculture, without helping our farmers especially women who do most of the work.”
“No country or region of significant size has been able to lift itself out of poverty without raising productivity in its agricultural sector. This is our challenge. It is a long-term effort, but one that—with our partners—is within reach,” said Annan while accepting to lead the revolution
Having been at the apex of the global humanitrarian organistion – the United Nations – Annan is aware that 16 of 18 undernourished countries in the world were in Africa, a situation that needed change.
He is even forthright on the need to change the situation.
“We will reverse this trend by working to create an environmentally sustainable, uniquely African Green Revolution. When our poorest farmers finally prosper, all of Africa will benefit.”
AGRA was established last year with an initial US$150 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.
The alliance is answering the call of many African leaders to build on the achievements and lessons learned from the Green Revolution in Asia and Latin America that began more than a generation ago. That campaign—initiated by the Rockefeller Foundation—saved hundreds of millions of lives and more than doubled cereal production. There is much to be learned from these tremendous successes, as well as from their shortcomings.
The environment is ripe for the success of the revolution in Africa.
The annual growth of agriculture in Africa between 1994 and 2000 has been averaging 3.9 per cent against the total world average of two per cent, according to Jacques Diouf, director-general of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). This means the growth in Africa is almost double that of Asia and Latin America which both have figures around 2.3 per cent.
Around half of African countries are progressing, Diuof says.
Infact, African leaders’ resolve is reflected in their organisation to move forward through NEPAD's Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the Bankable Investment Profile of US $10 million and the Medium Term Framework on Food Security.
Many African heads of state have already committed to reaching the African Union’s goal of reaching a 6 percent annual increase in farm production by 2015 and cutting food insecurity in half.
Said Annan: “Ours is a Revolution of the 21st Century, one that we Africans will own, whose destiny we will shape, and which responds to the specific environmental challenges facing our continent. We will offer a wide range of innovative solutions. African nations and farmers will choose those that are best suited for our African cultures, climates, and economies,” said Annan.
In 2006, AGRA began working with our partners to develop new seeds for small-scale farmers that are more productive and resilient varieties of Africa’s major food crops.
Also in 2006, it launched educational programmes to accelerate the development of African agricultural expertise, and to monitor and evaluate our work.
Over the next four years, AGRA will systematically build on these programmes, adding initiatives to address other key aspects of the agricultural value chain.
In 2007, it will launch a programme to improve the health of Africa’s soils, now the most depleted in the world.
In 2008, it will launch a water management initiative to help Africa’s small-scale farmers get the most “crop for each drop”.
By 2009, the Alliance will address the key challenges facing off-farm systems and markets, such as improvements in market information systems, crop storage, processing and transport.
Beyond this five-year time frame, the work of the alliance will continue to be informed by African farmers in the field, women’s associations, and partners and leaders from all sectors of agriculture. We expect to see dramatic improvements in the livelihoods of small-holder farmers within 10 to 20 years.
But this ambition will remain a dream if the underlying challenges of agriculture in Africa are ignored.
One of these involves market barriers. It is easier for an African country to trade with Europe than with another African country. If African countries do not create a big market amongst themselves, the revolution risks failure.
None of the aspirations will be possible without market improvements to increase access to credit for small-scale farmers. The ability of these farmers to sell their surplus crops is critical to any gains in African food production.
Another is what would be called a “People centred change”. Unless people - the small-scale farmers themselves - who are the movers, see the need for change, nothing will happen.
It would, therefore be wise to develop locally-driven and adapted solutions that address the full range of reforms required to ensure dramatically increased productivity on Africa’s small-scale farms.
African farmers want better seeds, soils, and prices for what they sell.
They want access to water, markets, and credit. They need to see national polices put in place that accelerate rural economic growth, investment, and job creation.
Without these, their interest to move will dampen.
Water management is a cornerstone of the revolution. A crucial challenge ahead will be to improve water use, especially where water is scarce. It would be equally wise to encourage, or develop, low-cost, small-scale water management and irrigation techniques to deal with recurrent draughts.
Of equal importance is the issue of value addition. Africa has for a long time depended on exporting raw materials without adding value. It would also be important to encourage farmers export, not just the basic crops, but those that have gone through some kind of processing.