A committed effort in every agricultural sector and discipline will reap real benefits for the continent, says Lindiwe Majele Sibanda.

Lindiwe Majele Sibanda

Next week, over 200 farmers, policymakers, agricultural researchers, agrodealers and non-governmental organisations from across Africa and around the world will be gathering in Namibia for the annual FANRPAN Policy Dialogue to discuss the state of food security in sub-Saharan Africa and future priorities for continuing progress.

Food security on the continent is still only a goal; the reality is that agricultural growth has been erratic, leaving one third of the African population chronically malnourished.

But with the right agricultural policies and programmes in place to support farmers, an economically productive and stable food supply is a viable future for Africa.  In fact, one estimate is that agricultural output in Africa could increase from $280Bn today to $880Bn by 2030.

To achieve this growth, farmers need access to quality inputs that help them to increase agricultural productivity, including improved seed, fertiliser and crop protection products as well as secure access to land and water resources. They need to be trained on crop and natural resources management, in particular climate change adaptation strategies, and given the means to changes the techniques they use in their fields.

Finally, farmers need to be supported in accessing markets through better post-harvest storage facilities and stronger infrastructure links, as well as information technologies that provide weather, crop and market alerts. These can form the basis for an inclusive marketplace and a fairer trading environment.

At the core of agricultural development lies the need for increased funding. The World Bank has calculated (PDF) that agricultural growth is at least twice as effective at eliminating poverty as growth from any other sector. Without investment into the back end of the agricultural production chain, these economic gains remain untapped.

Africa has a history of underinvestment in agriculture, which is being addressed by the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program (CAADP).  CAADP was set up by the African Union  as part of its New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) in 2003 to help African countries reach a higher path of economic growth through agriculture-led development.  In adopting the CAADP goals, twenty African governments have agreed to increase public investment in agriculture to a minimum of 10 per cent of their national budgets – substantially more than the four to five per cent average they commit today – with the aim of raising agricultural productivity by at least six per cent on average each year

And there is more promise. FANRPAN’s research into Malawi’s agricultural input subsidy programme has shown that from 2005, when the initiative was launched, to 2008, average maize yields in Malawi increased from 0.8 tonnes per hectare to 2.9 tonnes per hectare. In the space of five years, Malawi has transformed itself from being a food deficit nation to a grain exporter.

My recent video interview with the Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika outlines how this transformation can occur across the continent.

But while Africa has one-quarter of the world’s arable land, it produces only 10 per cent of its total global output, whilst holding an estimated 60 per cent of the world’s uncultivated, arable land. Better knowledge sharing, technology transfer and public-private collaboration are needed to help bridge this gap into the future.

The challenges for food security are multi-faceted.  Sectors such as livestock and fisheries, an area of focus at this year’s FANRPAN Policy Dialogue, are also important sources of livelihoods for many Africans. After many years of neglect, these sectors are also being recognised as means of entering new markets and generating wealth as well as being key social safety nets during lean times

However, livestock and fisheries are also amongst the most climate-sensitive agroeconomic sectors. Consequently, for the 200 million Africans who rely on livestock for their livelihoods, and the 10 million Africans employed in fisheries(not to mention the 70 per cent of Africa’s rural poor who keep livestock), climate change will have serious implications and must be addressed in the region’s climate adaptation strategies

Achieving food security in Africa will require a sustained effort from experts in every sector and from every discipline. Collaborative approaches and committed investments of time, technologies and research funding will guide the way to a more prosperous tomorrow

As a supporter of the Farming First coalition, we call on policy-makers and practitioners to develop locally sustainable value-chains fairly connected to global agricultural markets, and to continue creating knowledge networks and policies centred on helping subsistence farmers to become entrepreneurs.

About Lindiwe Majele Sibanda

Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda is the CEO of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and is a spokesperson for the Farming First coalition

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