Soaring food prices seen as opportunity for African farmers

May 12th, 2008 - 8:59 am ICT by admin  

By Eva Krafczyk
Nairobi, May 12 (DPA) Nigeria’s Akin Adesina, vice president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), sees the global food crisis as an opportunity as well as a challenge. “Over the medium and long term, the expansion of agriculture, not food aid, is the only solution,” he remarked.

Adesina said it was scandalous that Africa’s agricultural output had declined over the past 30 years, with many African farmers producing too little to feed even their own families.

“The agricultural sector in Africa has been neglected for decades.”

Pedro Sanchez, an agronomist at Columbia University in New York City and advisor to the UN Development Programme, also sees the current crisis as the right time for a “green revolution”, and points to India’s example.

“It was the price crisis during the ’60s that prompted massive support for rice cultivation there,” he said.

Faced with soaring prices on the world market, Sanchez said, import-dependent African countries had to push domestic production of corn, rice, grain and other staples in order to lessen their dependency on foreign supplies.

Some African governments are trying to do just that. At the beginning of May, Kenya’s government launched a $50 million programme in conjunction with AGRA that is mainly aimed at assisting small-scale farmers. Under the programme, low-interest loans as well as state-subsidised fertiliser and better quality seeds will be made available to some 2.5 million farmers.

In Senegal, President Abdoulaya Wade has unveiled a plan called the “Great Agricultural Offensive for Food and Abundance”. Its goal is to increase the production of rice, the main food of most Senegalese, by two and a half times this year - to 500,000 tonnes. Senegal currently imports from Asia 80 percent of the some 800,000 tonnes of rice that its people consume annually.

“Malawi is a great example of how an import-dependent country can become an exporter,” Adesina pointed out. The turnaround, he said, took just two and a half years.

Such quick successes cannot be expected Africa-wide, however, cautioned Sanchez, who said that “five to 10 years is the minimum”. It was not merely a matter of political will, he pointed out. The necessary funds had to be raised as well.

Over the long term, Sanchez said, it would be cheaper for donor countries to invest in African farmers than to send aid. The consequences of global warming had to be taken into account too.

“Africa bears the heaviest burden of climate change,” Adesina declared. Industrialised countries, whose emissions are largely responsible for climate change, should share the costs of bringing about a successful green revolution in Africa, he said.

Jeffrey Sachs, a special UN advisor and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, is among the advocates of a generous international fund to boost African agriculture.

“In Africa alone, $10 billion a year are needed,” he said.

Sachs said that while aid programmes like Kenya’s were a step in the right direction, they fell far short of the mark.

“The minimum is $80-100 per hectare of land,” he remarked, adding that fertiliser and better seeds for African farmers were essential.

Sachs cited the villages targeted in the UN Millennium Project as proof that investment paid off. “Crop yields there have increased three to four fold,” he said.

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