Towards a common market in Africa
Two Italian-financed projects to improve food security through a regional approach
25 May 2006, Rome - FAO announced today the launch of two new projects to promote food security in five countries in eastern and southern Africa, worth a total of $4.5 million. Both projects are being financed by the Italian government under the FAO Trust Fund for Food Security*.
The projects both focus on modernizing agricultural systems and on promoting market access to provide outlets for what is mainly subsistence farming as part of the broader strategy agreed in 2001 by the member countries of NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development).
Despite their specific national characteristics, the five beneficiary countries share many common features. Agriculture is the dominant sector in all of them. In countries such as Burundi and Rwanda agriculture provides up to 90% of employment.
Yet food insecurity and poverty are widespread, peaking sharply in rural areas. In 1998-2000, 4.3 million people, or 69% of the total population, were estimated to be undernourished in Burundi. Some of these countries have recently suffered from massive food crises.
The Great Lakes region
The first project, worth $3 million, will be implemented in the districts of three bordering countries, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, in the Great Lakes region. Working together will strengthen cooperation between all three, and each will be able to capitalize on the experience of the others.
There is a very little recourse to irrigation, and agriculture is highly rainfall-dependent. The project will therefore encourage the efficient use of available water resources and aim at strengthening small farmers' organizations through training courses and "field schools."
The other project, in which $1.5 million is to be invested, will improve cassava production in Malawi and Zambia. Recurrent droughts and poor yields of traditionally produced maize, which is oversensitive to climatic variations, have encouraged the widespread farming of cassava, making it Africa's fastest growing food crop today. In Zambia it is the staple food of over 30% of the population. The aim of the project is to enhance cassava's commercial potential by processing it, for example into starch, which can also be exported.
The importance of market access
"The market is a key element for achieving food security," according to M.E. Chipeta, Director of FAO Policy Assistance Division. "Production alone is not sufficient unless there are commercial outlets."
The beneficiary countries are all members of COMESA, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, a partnership established in 1994 to foster regional economic integration, focusing on trade to overcome the barriers of individual states.
"It is important that the countries concerned have committed themselves to giving priority to modernizing every aspect of agriculture, that is to say, from production to processing and marketing," said M.E. Chipeta.
The role of rural radio
Rural radio will play a very important role in disseminating information on the projects, as with other programmes elsewhere in Africa, Radio broadcasts provide news of market opportunities, giving isolated farmers information on current prices and possible alternative uses of particular crops.
* The FAO Trust Fund for Food Security was launched in 2001 by the Director-General of FAO, Jacques Diouf, in the wake of the World Food Summit, to give a greater impetus to combating hunger. Italy was one of the first FAO member countries to respond to the appeal, with a pledge of 100 million euros, 60 million of which have already been disbursed.
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