Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Helping subsistence farmers become small-scale entrepreneurs

What can we say about a world in which agriculture and farmers are no longer considered to be national policy priorities? To say that we take food production for granted would be grossly understating the case. In fact, since farming in many industrialized nations has been co-opted by agribusiness, it has become a primary source of environmental problems and corporate corruption.

As Africa ponders its future and charts its course for sustainable development, let's hope its leaders do not repeat the mistakes that countries have made in promoting mega-scale, energy-intensive farming practices. (GW)

Put farming first in Africa

Without sustainable agriculture, sustainable development in Africa will remain a dream, argues Lidiwe Majele Sibanda

By Lidiwe Majele Sibanda

Guardian UK

Katine Chronicles Blog

April 27, 2009

Since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were endorsed by 192 UN member states in September 2000, they have served as a benchmark for how the international development community drafts policy and allocates funding through to the year 2015.

A top priority of the MDGs is to halve the number of people in the world experiencing poverty and hunger. While several countries have made progress in this area (China alone has lifted more than 175 million of its people above the poverty line), many other countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, still face the same hunger and poverty levels that they experienced 20 years ago. Up to 300 million Africans are facing chronic hunger.

So what can Africans do to put food on the table and money in their pockets? The answer is simple – invest in agriculture.

After decades of stagnation in agricultural yields and little investment in rural economies, African countries are beginning to prioritise the development of agricultural production and markets. Rural development and agricultural productivity improvement now feature prominently on the agenda of national governments. Continent-wide plans and investments, through programmes under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Research into Use (RIU) and the Alliance for Commodity Trade in East and Southern Africa (ACTESA) and many others are encouraging.

CAADP is an African-owned and growth-oriented agricultural development framework that has been endorsed by African heads of state as the engine through which Africa's agricultural development will be driven. With the majority of African governments spending on average less than 5% of total national budgets on agriculture, one of CAADP's key objectives is to increase this to 10%, with the target of raising agricultural productivity by at least 6% per annum. Achieving Africa's agricultural growth requires massive investments from the global community and the on-going global financial crisis poses a threat to Africa's efforts.

Over the past generation, agriculture and farmers have been sidelined in international policy circles. During this time, agriculture's share of total aid has dropped from 17% to 3% of total spend. As a result, productivity is low. While total aid to sub-Saharan Africa remained stable during the 1990s, the proportion allocated to agriculture declined year on year. Aid to agriculture in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) member states declined as a proportion of total aid from 20% in the early 1980s to 8% by 2000. If poverty in Africa is to be reduced, aid to agriculture must be increased substantially and made to work more effectively.

The G8 agriculture ministers, who met for the first time last weekend to discuss the world food emergency, have done well to recognise the role agriculture plays in the success of a broader development agenda. The summit, held in Italy, also did well to invite the agriculture ministers from other key food exporting countries, namely China, Brazil, Egypt, South Africa, Mexico, India, Argentina, and Australia. In their final declaration, the ministers of the G8 countries stressed the importance of sound agricultural policies and strategies to underpin the investments, at national, regional and global level. They highlighted that policies and strategies need to be developed in an inclusive manner, involving all main stakeholders, including farmer organisations, and to be based on reliable statistics. The G8 ministers have endorsed CAADP as an excellent plan of what is needed to achieve food security.

It is time we realised that there can be no sustainable development without sustainable agriculture. For Africa to develop sustainable food polices partnerships are key. My organisation, the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) has joined forces with international groups from the science and technology, farming, and private sector communities to endorse a plan called Farming First among global policymakers.

Farming First calls on world leaders to take action by developing a locally sustainable value chain for global agriculture. It emphasises the need for knowledge networks and policies centred on helping subsistence farmers to become small-scale entrepreneurs, and it proposes six interlinked imperatives for sustainable agriculture: safeguarding natural resources, sharing knowledge, building local access, protecting harvests, enabling access to markets and prioritising research imperatives.

The time is right to bring about much needed policy reform to address the stubborn and widespread problems that have crippled African agriculture and rural economies.

Implementation of programmes under CAADP is critical for reducing hunger and achieving the global priorities expressed in the Millennium Development Goals.

Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda is CEO of the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network


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