by Xinhua writer Wang Xiangjiang
MALABO, Equatorial Guinea, June 23 (Xinhua) -- Agriculture, the backbone of most African economies, has the best chance to lift people out of poverty in Africa in the shortest possible time, says a senior analyst at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a global research facility dedicated to ending hunger and poverty.
Godfrey Bahiigwa, head of IFPRI's Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office, told Xinhua in an in-depth interview on a biannual African Union summit being held here under the theme of "Agriculture and Food Security."
Putting a priority on the transformation of the agriculture sector in Africa, African leaders have made agriculture and food security the theme of both its January and June summits this year.
"The main reason for Africa's leaders focusing on agriculture and dedicating 2014 as the year of agriculture is the continuing realization that the sector still employs two thirds of the population; is the main source of exports for most countries; has the best chance to lift people out of poverty in shortest possible time," said Bahiigwa.
THE ROLE OF CAADP
Besides, 2014 is a celebration of 10 years of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), a programme of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), launched in 2003 in Maputo, Mozambique, with the main objective of increasing investments in agriculture, boosting food security and reducing poverty in Africa, said the IFPRI analyst.
On Africa's urgency to transform the sector, Bahiigwa said Africa's agriculture need transformation from a low-input, low- output sector to a high-input, high-output sector.
"This means increasing the amount of output per unit land or per unit person," he said. "At the moment, both of these parameters are low in African countries."
Bahiigwa said cereal yields in Africa are 20-30 percent of what is possible in developed countries. This means Africa can still raise its cereal yields 3-4 times the current levels. This can be achieved through use of productivity enhancing technologies (improved seed, fertilizer) in land constrained countries or labor saving technologies (machinery) in land rich countries.
Over the past 10 years, CAADP has been playing a role in Africa's agriculture at continental, regional and country levels, he said.
At the continental level, the African Union Commission (AUC) and the NEPAD Agency has used the CAADP platform to mobilize African leaders and the international community to rally around the need to transform Africa's agriculture.
"At this level, maintaining political support is very important, " he said.
At the regional level, regional economic communities (RECs) have work with member states towards signing of CAADP compacts and formulation and review of national agriculture investment plans (NAIPs).
At the national level, this is where action takes place – translating policies and strategies into actions on the ground toward achieving each country's targets in the compact and NAIP.
The role of CAADP in the transformation process has been to rally support for agriculture across the different levels and formulating investment plans for implementation, he said.
TEN YEARS' PROGRESS
A lot of progress has been made, ten years after the implementation of CAADP in 2003, said the analyst.
For example, over 40 countries have signed CAADP compacts and about 30 of those have NAIPs.
"This is impressive," he said. "However, the challenge lies in implementation, whose quality varies from one country to another."
Progress has also been made in increased funding for the sector. Overall, the volume of resources in Africa going to agriculture increased on average by 7.4 percent per annum, however because total expenditures grew faster than this, the share of public expenditure in agriculture declined.
As of 2013, 13 countries had reached the 10 percent target of their budget spend on agriculture, and seven of those countries had done so more than once, between 2003 and 2010.
AFRICA'S FOOD SECURITY
The other part of the AU summit theme is food security. At the moment, the UN is warning that Somalia is on the brink of a new food crisis, which has brought fear of a repeat of the 2011 crisis, during which 258,000 people lost their lives.
"The food security situation in Somalia is caused by several factors, both human and natural," said Bahiigwa. "The human conflicts in that country span over two decades."
"These have destroyed the productive base as populations are unable to settle for long in one place to carry out agriculture. Natural factors are the recurrent droughts, and with climate change have become more frequent and more severe," he said.
Dwelling on the lessons that can be learned from the Somalia food crisis and used to help improve food security in Africa, Bahiigwa emphasized peace as a prerequisite for ensuring food security in Africa.
"Farmers must live in stable political environment to carry out farming. Even trade is not possible if there is no peace," he said. "Second, once peace is assured, investments have to be made to increase agricultural productivity, in a way that allows sustainable management of natural resources."
This is true everywhere, but particularly so in fragile ecosystems that are prone to droughts, he added.
IFPRI's vision is to realize "A World Free of Hunger and Malnutrition." Its mission is to provide research-based policy solutions that sustainably reduce poverty and end hunger and malnutrition.