Striving for food security
Endowed with fertile soils, a favourable climate and affluent water basins, Africa possesses all the necessary inputs for a flourishing farming region.
However, inadequate funding, poor rural infrastructure and neglected agricultural research have seen the continent experience some challenges in fully exploiting its potential to increase food and agricultural production.
As a result, member states of the African Union (AU) have come up with various measures to guarantee sustainable food security and ensure economic prosperity for its peoples.
Such measures include the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), which was formulated in 2003 under the auspices of the AU and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
CAADP ‑ an Africa-wide framework for revitalising agriculture, food security and nutrition aims to assist African countries reach a higher path of economic growth through agriculture-led development.
Under this comprehensive programme, African governments have made a commitment to allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to the agricultural sector each year.
Ultimately, this ambitious and broad vision for agricultural reform in Africa aspires for an average annual growth rate of six percent in agriculture.
To encourage member states to meet to achieve some of the goals set 11 years ago in Maputo, the capital city of Mozambique, the AU has declared 2014 as the “Year of Agriculture and Food Security in Africa”.
The initiative to declare 2014 as the “Year of Agriculture and Food Security in Africa” is aimed at giving high-level focus on agriculture and providing an opportunity for African governments to renew and recommitment their support towards agricultural development.
In this regard, the theme for the forthcoming AU Summit of Heads of State and Government scheduled for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in late January is “2014: The Year of Agriculture and Food Security in Africa”.
Agriculture is the backbone of most economies in Africa hence the sector has been identified as a priority area of development.
However, in spite of the various challenges faced by Africa, the continent has continued to record some significant growth in reinvigorating its food and agriculture sector for socio-economic prosperity since the adoption of the CAADP in 2003.
For example, smallholder farmers, who make the majority of the farmers, have been the biggest beneficiary as they now have better access to markets, finance, technical support and agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilisers.
Better access to markets, finance and other technical support has allowed smallholder farmers to unleashing their potential and contribute towards agricultural growth and sustainable socio-economic development in Africa.
Appropriate and sufficient technical support has enabled the farmers to try out new crop or livestock.
Such support for smallholder farmers has been made available through the NEPAD Fertiliser Support Programme, which aims to facilitate the production, distribution, procurement and use of fertiliser in Africa.
A total of US$35 million has been set aside to ensure that this fertile support programme is a major success.
In addition to this, in the 10 years of the implementation of CAADP, the agricultural sector in Africa has grown by about 3.2 percent a year, according to latest figures.
The increase is the highest average for the last four decades, and has contributed to improving the lives of poor people, particularly those in rural areas.
From only one country in 2009, over 40 countries including Zimbabwe and many other countries in eastern and southern Africa such as Ethiopia, Rwanda and Zambia have signed the CAADP and are now actively engaged in implementing the CAADP at different levels.
Most of these countries have also moved towards establishing their own National and Food Security Investment Plans to spur agricultural growth.
For countries to access international funding such as the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), they must sign a CAADP compact.
This development has had a positive effect of making African countries approach agricultural development more strategically, thus helping put back agriculture and food security issues higher on national priorities.
The main policies under CAADP include investing more in improved agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertiliser as well as targeted subsidy programmes that result in farmers accessing agricultural inputs and farm implements at cheaper rates.
Member countries should also allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture and rural development to improve food security in the region.
At least eight countries, according to NEPAD have surpassed the 10 percent target, while many have either attained this target or are on course to allocating at least 10 percent of their budget towards agriculture.
Malawi was one of the first countries in southern Africa to allocate 10 percent of its budget to agriculture, and this is credited as one of the factors in Malawi’s recent bumper harvests.
With regards to agricultural research, some efforts has been made to improve the research, as access to research inform is critical for planning purposes, particularly when farmers want to diversify into new crops or livestock.
On infrastructure, a number of African countries are developing key infrastructure such as roads and silos to store surplus harvest that could be used in times of hunger.
A recent study by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that most countries in Africa lose up to 40 percent of their produce after harvest because of poor storage.
Therefore, as Africa dedicates the year 2014 to agriculture and food security, there is need for the continent to address the challenges of inadequate funding, poor rural infrastructure and neglected agricultural research in order to turn the continent into a flourishing farming region.
Member states must also fully implement the CAADP to unlock agricultural growth in Africa. The CAADP has four main focus areas for agricultural improvement and investment.
These are Sustainable Land and Water Management, and Market Access. The remaining two are Food Supply and Hunger, as well as Agricultural Research.
The comprehensive programme brings together key players in agriculture including African leaders, policy makers, scientists and farmers.