"Enhancing political commitment and resources, increasing agricultural productivity and addressing the complete food and nutrition cycle to reduce hunger and undernutrition" are central to any strategy aimed at ensuring agricultural development and food and nutrition security in Africa, said Victoria Sekitoleko, FAO Sub-Regional Representative for Southern and East Africa.
Speaking on behalf of FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf, Ms Sekitoleko said that "long-term responses to reverse the situation in Africa - where 45 percent of the population are living on less than $1 per day - have to focus on the role of agriculture for improving food security, alleviating poverty and promoting economic growth."
The FAO representative recalled some of the major challenges faced by food and nutrition security in Africa:
- External assistance to agriculture has decreased.
- External assistance to agriculture does not reach the most food insecure countries.
- Cereal production and agriculture production in general has stagnated.
- The prevalence of undernourished in sub-Saharan Africa is over 26 percent.
- There has been an increase in the number of emergencies, most of which are progressively being caused by humans.
Substantial investments needed
Ms Sekitoleko called for political commitment and increased resources for policies and actions that aim at enhancing agricultural development and food security.
In this context, she underlined the importance of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), formulated with FAO assistance, as a framework under which African countries can reverse the agricultural crisis, free their peoples from hunger and spur broad-based socio-economic development.
Substantial public and private investments are needed to increase agricultural productivity. FAO estimates that only 7 percent of Africa's arable land is irrigated compared to 40 percent in Asia. This figure drops to 3 percent if Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, Madagascar and South Africa are excluded.
Africa does not make full use of its water resources; it only uses 4 percent of its water reserves available for irrigation as compared to 17 percent in Asia.
In the absence of deliberate steps to accelerate progress, the amount of irrigated land in Africa is expected to grow at under 1 percent over the period from 1996 to 2030 at which time the amount of irrigated land would be barely 20 percent of the potential, according to FAO.
FAO estimates that about 75 percent of the projected growth in crop production in Africa between 1996 and 2030 will come from intensification in the form of yield increases (62 percent) and higher cropping intensities (13 percent), with the remaining 25 percent coming from arable land expansion.
Yields from irrigated crops are three times higher than yields from rainfed crops, but agricultural activity on 93 percent of Africa's arable land is dependent on extremely erratic rainfall.
Investment in water control is critical
Ms Sekitoleko stressed that investment in water control is critical to closing the gap between production and demand for food. Water control is conceived as the key component in FAO's Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS).
The Programme's water component functions as the entry point to intensify crop production and to diversify farm income. Substantial production increases can only be achieved if conditions of optimal water supply can be secured through the introduction of appropriate technologies for irrigation, water conservation, and drainage and flood control.
Through a process of participative consultation with small-holder farmers, water management constraints and water control techniques are identified and suitable low cost solutions and technologies implemented to intensify agricultural production, Ms Sekitoleko said.
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