From the podium

From the podium

Mr Josue Dione (Director, of Sustainable Development Division, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa - ECA)

Thank you Madam Chairperson, it is indeed a great honour for me to address this distinguished audience and to deliver on behalf of Dr. K.Y. Amoako, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

We are at a stage, in Africa's economic history, where agriculture should be playing a leading role in the continent's development. Regrettably, many African governments have "sold African agriculture short" by failing to exploit fully the many strategic roles it can play in development. To compound the problem, our development partners have consistently failed to follow up and implement their commitments to support Africa's quest for open markets for its produce.

What is the cause of Africa's poor agricultural performance?

To get African agriculture moving again, we all need to start with a clear understanding of where we are and why we are having so much difficulty moving forward. Then we have to put in place measures to remedy the situation. A quick look at current conditions shows that we have many challenges before us.

First, we are poor. Our own analysis at the Economic Commission for Africa shows that half of the Sub-Saharan African population, including two-thirds of rural Africa, lives in poverty. Second, the environmental hand we were dealt was not too good, and it has not gotten better. We are in a classic nexus of food insecurity, declining but still high population growth rates, and an environment that is deteriorating fast. Third, while conflicts have declined in other parts of the world, they have not in Africa. Comparison of wartime and peace adjusted trends shows that since 1980, peace would have added two to five percent to Africa's food production per capita per year. Fourth, we in development have not succeeded in making a persuasive political case for agricultural development to policy makers. Most top government leaders still do not see the nexus of agriculture, environment and population as central to development.

Then, what is the way forward?

To reverse the poor performance in the African agricultural sector, there are some steps we must take:

We must improve our soil and water resource management. Recent research warns that the greater evolution will be impossible in Africa unless soil quality is improved. It is estimated that 72 percent of Sub-Saharan African cropland and 31 percent of its pasturelands is degraded, contributing to enormous losses in output.

We must raise the competitiveness of African agriculture. African countries must devise policies that will help them move beyond the traditional perception of comparative advantage to a new perception of "competitive advantage", which sees competition in the world and regional markets not as passive and responsible merely to price incentives, but which also seeks out and responds to under-served and new market opportunities both regionally and globally.

We must mobilize resources for investment in agriculture and agricultural research. Although agriculture accounts for 30 to 80 percent of gross domestic output, it receives less than ten percent of public funding for investment and recurrent spending. While we know that a combination of good policies, high yielding seeds and enriched soils can double rice and wheat yields, triple sorghum yields, and quadruple maize yields in Africa, we must also build the human capacity and institutional capital of agriculture and world economy.

Over the years, physical and institutional infrastructures have deteriorated, compounding the problem of high transactions and transport costs in African agriculture.

We, at ECA, are working closely with our partners to help our Member States devise policies, which seek to implement changes in all these areas. It is in light of our shared goals that today's meeting takes on even greater significance. FAO, as the UN system's lead organization for agriculture, is at the vanguard of efforts to realize Africa's agricultural potential.

As the New Partnership for Africa's Development is also a focus of discussions in Rome this week, I would like to conclude by affirming that ECA is fully committed to working with FAO and other partners in assisting the NEPAD initiative in the agricultural sector, as in all other areas, in order to swiftly put this continent on a path to sustainable development.

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