Let us start off this instalment with some statistics that can only be described as wholly unacceptable, and which constitute a damning indictment on the leadership and private sector in Africa.
Our continent is home to more than 300 million grossly food insecure people. This includes people who average one or zero meals per day and are malnourished. If we were to include the number of people who are under-nourished, the figure would be much higher.
Of all the regions of the world that are classified as “developing”, Africa is the only one that over the past two or so decades has experienced an increase in food insecurity. This means what inasmuch as we call ourselves “developing”, in many instances we have stagnated or, worse still, regressed in the area of access to food, which constitutes one of the basic pillars of human rights.
At the same time, Africa is home to a full third of the world’s arable land. With all this land available for growing food crops, Africa should be feeding the world and yet it is failing to even feed itself.
To add insult to injury, of the arable land that is irrigable on the continent, a measly two percent of this is actually under irrigation.
This week, African Union Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment, Ambassador Josefa Sacko, highlighted another unacceptable statistic (as we report elsewhere in The Southern Times) pertaining to food issues on the continent.
She said that the continent spent an estimated US$80 billion on food imports last year. What is more, Ambassador Sacko said Africa’s food import bill was growing at a rate of six percent per annum.
And all of this is happening on a continent that nearly 20 years ago, in 2003 to be exact, saw its leaders adopting what has been called the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, which birthed the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme under the aegis of the AU.
One of the key aspects of the Maputo Declaration is that African countries committed themselves to setting aside at least 10 percent of their national budgets for agriculture every year.
The idea was that there was a realisation that investment in agriculture was the only way to improve the food security situation in individual countries and across the continent. It was postulated that allocating 10 percent of the national budget to agriculture would result in a annual six percent growth in the agri-economy in a continent where the majority rely on farming and manufacturing gets the bulk of its inputs from the land.
African leaders went further a decade later, and came up with the Malabo Declaration in Equatorial Guinea.
The Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods reaffirms the central commitments of the Maputo Declaration vis-à-vis the 10 percent spending target. But it went further and specified – among other things – the need for increased investment in irrigation, mechanisation and reducing post-harvest losses.
So with all these wonderful ideas and high-sounding declarations, why are we spending upwards of US$80 billion on food imports?
According to the AU Development Agency and NEPAD, available data shows not one African country is spending 10 percent of public money on agriculture.
In many instances, spending on physical security-related areas is higher than that on agriculture! And in several cases where agricultural growth has been registered in terms of output, indications are that this has been done on the basis of increasing the area under cultivation rather than in the qualitative terms of output per hectare.
This indicates where we are spending more on agriculture, it is in an inefficient and costly manner.
We need to not only spend more money on agriculture, but more importantly to do so in a manner that points to better efficiencies that yield greater productivity. This speaks to greater commercialisation of production processes, which by necessity means more investment in best practices, irrigation and mechanisation.
African citizens must hold their governments to account over such basic human rights as the right to food. Parliamentarians and citizen representative groups should focus less on mindless politics and instead take executive to task on how far they have gone in meeting commitments like those made in Maputo in 2003 and in Malabo in 2013.
Government spending must be accounted for and steered towards productive sectors.
Further, there is need for greater private sector participation in agriculture in a manner that improves food security within countries and across the continent.
More must be done to incorporate the majority subsistence farmers in value chains that foster food security and sustainable rural development.
There really is not excuse for food insecurity in Africa.
We have the land, the manpower, the right climatic conditions in many places, the water bodies and the natural resources to finance agriculture so that no one in the 21st century need to go bed hungry or, indeed, die of hunger-related causes.
Every year, the European Union and the United States spend billions of dollars on subsidising agriculture and farmers.
Desert countries like Israel invest financially and in terms of policy support in agriculture.
Now we have the ignominy in Africa of importing food from regions of the world not as well-suited as we are to growing crops!
It is long past time for Africa to put its money where its mouth is.