AU Summit: Leaders prioritising agriculture and food security
Harare ‑ The role of agriculture in many African economies is substantial as it is a source of livelihood for most of the continent’s population.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, approximately 70 percent of the Sub-Saharan population lives in rural areas and depends on crop and animal production, fishery and forestry as direct sources of food and income.
It is because of this that this year’s theme at the 22nd African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, gives importance to the developments that have taken place in the agricultural sector, especially of many Sub-Saharan African economies.
The Summit is running under the theme, “Transforming Africa’s Agriculture: Harnessing Opportunities for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development”.
The Heads of State and Government will launch 2014 as the Year of Agriculture and Food Security, marking the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).
The CAADP is an initiative to increase food production in African countries by mobilising resources for agriculture and reducing poverty in the process.
A number of African countries’ ability to provide adequate food for their people have been greatly affected in the past 20 years by the HIV and AIDS pandemic, lack of access to working capital, climate change and poor farming methods.
It is because of this that the AU’s decision to prioritise agriculture has been welcomed by observers as one way of addressing a myriad of challenges that the continent continues to face.
Food production has been fluctuating in Sub-Saharan Africa since the 1970s. According to FAO, exports of cereals declined and imports expanded rapidly during the 1970s and 1980s. Imports nearly doubled between the 1960s and 1970s and trebled from then to the 1990s.
This, according to the UN body, reflects both structural food deficits resulting from rapid population growth and food shortfalls caused by drought and civil disruption in various parts of Africa, especially during the 1980s and early 1990s. In the mid-1980s, 20 percent of the staple food requirements of Sub-Saharan Africa were provided by imports with the situation getting worse off to the present day.
A lecturer in agriculture at the Mlezu Agricultural College in Zimbabwe said a paradigm shift in viewing the sector was needed if the continent is to turn around fortunes of being perennial beggars.
“I think the problem we have in Africa is that agriculture is not viewed as an industry with potential to bring massive economic benefits.
It is unfortunate that we are endowed with favourable climatic conditions and abundant water sources but still fail to use them to improve the livelihoods of our people.
“If you take a look at Zimbabwe, for example, we have abundant water sources but very little has been done to promote irrigation. In the end, all that water goes to waste. Arid countries like Israel and Iran have become net exporters of food because of efficient management of their water resources.
“It is, therefore, important that African leaders give this sector the importance that it deserves instead of merely paying lip service to it,” the lecturer said.
He also called on the private sector to invest in agriculture, as they were the ultimate beneficiaries of whatever is produced in the sector.