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Symposium 2010

Proposal - Meeting the Rising Global Demand for Food

The Challenge

It is becoming increasingly difficult to satisfy the rising global demand for food in a sustainable manner. A number of factors contribute to uncertainty about the world’s ability to meet the food ...

It is becoming increasingly difficult to satisfy the rising global demand for food in a sustainable manner. A number of factors contribute to uncertainty about the world’s ability to meet the food demand of an increasing population: average living standards are rising; land use is shifting from agriculture to urban and industrial uses; the production of nonfood crops for biofuels is on the rise; investments in increasing agricultural productivity are growing slowly; water and arable land are increasingly becoming scarce; and global warming is making it more difficult to produce food in some poor countries. Moreover, the food price crisis of 2008 added fuel to the fire and put food security on top of the policy agenda.

According to the World Food Programme, by 2009 Africa had about 212 million undernourished people (an increase of about 44 million from 1990) while some 388 million lived on less that US$1.25 a day in 2005 as compared to 295 million in 1990. Reports also indicate that everyday, more than 600 people go to sleep without food.

This state of affairs calls for doubling of efforts at global level to meet the rising demand for food. Following are some of the proposals in this regard:

  1. Increasing agricultural production and productivity including through technology generation and dissemination, disease and pest control as well as applying fertilizers and other yield-enhancing inputs
    This proposed solution is important because, for example, average rice yield per hectare in Africa is about half the global average. The comparative figure for maize yield is even worse, about a quarter of the global average. Africa’s agricultural production is organized in a traditional manner where very little or no inputs and improved methods of production are employed. For example, on average, fertilizer use is around 8 kg/ha compared to the 150 kg/ha global average.
  2. Enhancing market access and value addition
    This proposed solution is crucial considering that the slow pace of rural infrastructure development and its low maintenance in Africa has hampered marketing and movement of agriculture products from one region to another within a country, let alone their negative effects on inter-regional activities. As a result, relative seasonal surpluses in one location run in parallel with severe shortages and even hunger in another location close by within one and the same country. The value of Africa’s annual imports of agricultural produce is estimated to be between US$28-33 billion annually, which by far exceeds the intra-African trade. Clearly, there is a huge ‘home’ market demand that could potentially revolutionize agricultural transformation and improve livelihoods.
    Further, Africa’s agricultural produce face a huge challenge in meeting minimum sanitary and phytosanitary requirements and standards in developed countries. Since little or no processing takes place to transform the products and add value, African agricultural produces do not fetch higher prices and losses are significant.
  3. Putting in place appropriate policies and strategies, and strengthening institutional mechanisms
    This proposed solution is necessary because institutional deficiencies in the policy environment do undermine the performance of African agriculture and rural economy. Owing to limited institutional capacities for policy implementation, program implementation is often not consistent with policies and strategies, creating uncoordinated interventions that result in ineffective and inefficient use of resources. Historically, Africa never gave the agricultural sector the attention it deserves. In fact, until very recently, development policy was biased against the agricultural sector. The focus was on other sectors, and budgetary allocations to the agricultural sector were very low. Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to agriculture declined from $8 billion in the 1980s to $3.4 billion in 2004. This was compounded during the 1980s and 1990s by the introduction of Structural Adjustment Programs where public support to agriculture (e.g. input subsidies, support to public research and extension systems, etc.,) was abandoned. The expectation was that the private sector would move into the areas where the public sector supposedly had been having a crowding-out effect. The fact was, however, that the private sector did not move in, and the vacuum created by the withdrawal of necessary public support led to a worsening performance of the agricultural sector. The few nascent institutions, such as agricultural research systems, extension services, inputs delivery mechanisms, etc., were dismantled.
  4. Conserving environment and natural resources through sustainable land and water management, among others.
    This proposed solution is critical given that at least 95% of Africa’s farming systems are dependent on rain-fed agriculture. The region’s agricultural production and livelihood processes are therefore directly dependent on the environment. Biodiversity in Africa is under constant pressure as a consequence of unsatisfactory regulations and their limited enforcement. Air quality has also emerged as a serious challenge. Moreover, the impact of climate change and desertification has been extremely severe in Africa. Severe droughts are now more frequent, often leading to widespread famines among rural populations, decimating tens of thousands of lives before emergency responses could reach them. Similarly, seasonal floods have led to severe devastations, impacting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Access to, and availability of, quality fresh water resources pose a major developmental challenge. Approximately 22 percent of arable land in Africa has been degraded, of which 66 percent is classified as moderately, severely, or extremely degraded. This severe soil degradation is causing annual productivity losses ranging from 7 percent of pasture land to 25 percent of cropland, and affecting about 485 million small producers or 65 percent of the entire African population. In addition, deforestation in Africa accounts for over half of the global deforestation in the past two decades, which is costing the continent an estimated US$9.3 billion income loss annually. Land degradation and desertification have been slashing down the asset bases of rural people, dashing hopes for many and thus become one of the ‘push factors’ for causing people to move away from the affected areas. Insufficient adaptation capacity to climate change remains a key challenge in Africa, further exacerbating its food insecurity.
  5. Providing political and technical leadership.
    The above solutions ranging from policies, research and technology, inputs and infrastructure to value addition and environment conservation, cannot be put in place or implemented without strong political and technical leadership at all levels to push for implementation and monitoring for results and impact in terms of: increased food production; thereby reducing food imports; and reducing dependence on food aid; reduced hunger; reduced malnutrition; and increased household incomes and wealth.

In the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the African Union emphasizes the principles of agriculture-led growth, science-based policy and strategy formulation and implementation focusing on results to the most vulnerable, hungry and poor people. CAADP emphasizes the need to appreciate evidence-based planning, comprehensive approach to agricultural development and country-led strategy formulation and implementation. Through the implementation of CAADP, we have also noted that success in agricultural development requires clear stewardship of policy and strategy and monitoring for results.

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