Africa to help solve food crisis

Posted by Isobel Drake on 5th June 2008

An unprecedented partnership among key players in agricultural development aims to significantly boost food production in Africa’s “breadbasket regions,” link local food production to food needs, and work across Africa’s major agricultural growing areas-or agro-ecological zones-to create opportunities for smallholder farmers. The agreement marks a significant transformation in the way major global agencies work with smallholder farmers to assist them in solving Africa’s chronic hunger and food problems.

The “Memorandum of Understanding” was signed yesterday by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Programme (WFP) at the FAO High-Level Conference on World Food Security.

A number of challenges confront the partnership, not least of which is the poorly developed markets. A lack of investment and poor infrastructure in rural areas are other worrying issues that the alliance needs to overcome. Despite this, opportunities exist to help end chronic hunger and food problems.

This new partnership aims to make a difference now by optimising food production in areas with relatively good rainfall, soils, infrastructure, and markets-or “breadbasket areas”. “Unlocking the potential of agriculture in Africa is a huge challenge, but it can be done,” FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf proclaimed. “This initiative is an important contribution to reduce the number of more than 200 million hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa by boosting food production and productivity, and improving the livelihoods of millions of people in rural areas. FAO will actively participate in this important initiative by assisting in stimulating local food production, providing technical input, and developing new agricultural investments.”

The new partnership will work closely with other stakeholders in these breadbasket areas to rapidly improve food production, food security and rural incomes. Careful environmental monitoring, and conserving biodiversity, water and land will be given high priority by those involved. The agreement also calls for coordinating and sharing agricultural development innovations across diverse ecological zones and associated crops.

Mr Kofi Annan, Chairman of the Board of AGRA, echoed the sentiments of Dr Diouf advising that the strategy will be important in the long-term. “We must implement immediate solutions for today’s crisis and do so in the context of a long-term concerted effort to transform smallholder agriculture, to increase productivity and sustainability, and to end poverty and hunger,” he advised.

Per capita food production has declined in Africa for the past 30 years and farm productivity in Africa is just one-quarter the global average. The plan is to achieve at least a 6 per cent annual growth rate in agricultural production by 2015.

With fears about a global food shortage and recent data from the OECD indicating that food prices are likely to remain high for at least the next decade, the new alliance is welcome news throughout Africa and the rest of the world.