FAO Regional Office for Africa celebrated its 50th birthday this month. Dignitaries and officials from across the region attended the celebratory event held on Friday 10th December 2009 at La Palm Hotel in Accra. The event included a speech from the Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Ghana. Guests were reminded of the achievements of African agriculture over the last 50 years but were reminded of the challenges ahead for the next half a century.
A panel discussion on challenges and opportunities for African agriculture and food security provided an overview of the major issues and concerns for regional rural development.
The panel discussion was facilitated by Mr. Mafa Chipeta, FAO, Sub-Regional Coordinator, Eastern Africa. Mr Chipeta called for ambition in shaping the strategy ahead for African rural development by bringing about a Green Revolution for agriculture and to put an end to ‘manufacturing excuses for failure’. To be competitive Africa had to achieve self sufficiency in food and to end dependence on imports which had risen from 25BN in 2003 to 33BN currently. Eastern Africa accounts for 4% of world population but consumes an average of 20% of total world food aid, climbing to 30% in crisis years. Recreating the Green Revolution would require the application of the correct policies, strategies and adequate investment, including sufficient credit flows to smallholder farmers.
The Minister of Agriculture for Liberia, the Honourable Florence Chenoweth cited the significance of changing trends of urbanisation and its potentially positive impact on the expansion of food productivity from rural to urban centres. The importance of urbanisation in creating opportunities for productivity and to increase employment was highlighted as an area for RAF to explore in the coming decades. The Honourable Minister also called for FAO to facilitate the process of Africa taking responsibility for achieving food security, arguing that the continent needed support but had to claim ownership for feeding its people. She stressed the need for the necessary reform to be implemented a national level. Malawi was cited as a regional example of exemplary leadership on domestic agriculture reform.
Mr. Jean Louis Billon, Président de la Chambre de commerce, Côte d’Ivoiré raised the issue of Africa’s complicated land tenure system as a barrier to investment calling for land reform as an urgent requirement for the expansion of commercial farming. Some concerns were noted about the sale of local land to the private sector with proposals made to investigate possible arrangements for contract leasing.
Dr. Andre Bationo, Director AGRA West Africa Office outlined the need for synergies between agriculture development partners in the region from the private and public sectors in sharing the burden of funding. He also emphasised the need for exit strategies for rural development interventions to ensure self sufficiency and sustainability.
The discussion concluded with remarks on the need to ‘capture the power of enterprise’ by engaging the role of the region’s prominent informal sector. Livestock fisheries and forestry were highlighted as sectors that needed greater attention in order to improve food security and nutrition and support rural livelihoods. Attention was also paid to the declining number of Africa’s producers as a major concern for RAF in its efforts to achieve future regional food security.