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Africa Can Feed the World

Africa has large tracts of uncultivated land

“In the Bible, Christ talks about the people of Israel using the ox and plough – a technology that has been around for over 2000 years,” Tanzania’s President Kikwete stated during a recent speech to the African Green Revolution Forum in Arusha, Tanzania. “Yet, we in Africa are only now seeing a shift from hand hoe to ox and plough,” he told the audience of one thousand, who shook their heads in dismay.

The Africa Progress Panel believes that – away from the headlines on famine and malnutrition – Africa’s farms offer outstanding opportunities to provide jobs for the most marginalised people and to feed not just the continent but also the world.

While visiting cassava farms with Mr Annan in Tanzania, I was amazed by the energy, spirit, and creativity of the farmers who somehow make a living despite the uncertainties of global markets and increasing weather too.

So why then – when Africa has so much potential – do we still see 200 million people in Africa who are food insecure? In our Africa Progress Report, “Jobs, Justice and Equity,” we outline four critical issues for an African agriculture revolution.

First, a Revolution Needs Money

It takes money to improve techniques and technologies, conduct research, and adapt to climate change. But development aid to Africa’s agriculture has been declining for many years.

Donors and African governments have broken many promises.

At the Africa Progress Panel, we are encouraged by this year’s G8 summit, which endorsed the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. The New Alliance is a public-private partnership to support Africa’s urgently needed agricultural reforms that prioritize smallholder farmers and promote food security and nutrition. But, as the Guardian UK’s Poverty Matters blog noted, the $3 billion announcement does not represent new commitments. And many promises still remain unmet.

African governments must also keep their word.  Through the Maputo Declaration, 2003, African leaders committed to investing at least 10 per cent of their national budgets in agriculture. President Kikwete is leading the way and has committed to achieving the target by the 2013/14 budget. Others must follow.

Second, Agriculture Needs More Appeal

With the fastest growing population in the world, African governments must create jobs fast in order to keep unemployment rates in check. Agriculture offers excellent employment opportunities but, as Google’s Policy Manager for Africa, Ory Okolloh, recently said: “Agriculture is just not sexy for our youth”.

We think that new technologies, from mobile phones to irrigation techniques, may have an important role.

“These new technologies appeal to the younger generation and give them opportunities to play a greater part in the agricultural revolution,” Kofi Annan told the AGRA Forum.

“It is this new generation of Africans – male and female – with their energy and entrepreneurial spirit that needs to contribute to create a sustained [agricultural] transformation.”

Third, Regulate Commercial Land Grabs

Foreign investors are buying or leasing land all across the continent, with an eye to making a profit. We support any investment that generates jobs, income, and new skills for Africans, but we are wary when foreign investors use precious land and water to generate profit for themselves by feeding other continents. Where is the benefit for Africans?

For communities across Africa, land is more than just an economic asset. It is the source of life, livelihoods, culture and identity. In too many countries, African governments lack the legal and technical capacity to scrutinize the detail of land deals. Large-scale land deals must be carefully assessed and smallholder farmers’ rights protected.

“We have to be aware of recent large-scale land acquisitions which risk giving away fertile arable land for other use such as the production of bio-fuels,” Kofi Annan told the Forum in Arusha.

Fourth, Respect African Farmers, Especially the Women

“Most farm work in Africa is done by women. So when we talk about transforming the continent’s agriculture sector we must place women on the top of the agenda.”

For too long, smallholder farmers have suffered a combination of indifference and damaging policies. Day in, day out, millions of such farmers, men and women, show creativity, innovation, and the ability to manage risk. They are often working with weak access to markets, changing climates, and the world’s volatile prices of food. Indeed, Africa is the continent most affected by sharp rises in food prices.

Last month’s African Green Revolution Forum gave a palpable sense of opportunity and energy – Africa should and must feed its own people but the potential is greater than that. Investment in Africa’s agriculture will provide critical employment opportunities for the poorest, support rural poverty reduction, and enhance food security.

But with abundant land resources, Africa is also the continent where the world will likely find the most effective long-term solutions to global food and nutrition security.


Caroline Kende-Robb is the Executive Director of the Africa Progress Panel, a group of distinguished individuals, chaired by Kofi Annan, dedicated to encouraging progress in Africa.

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