Scaling up the fight against poverty and hunger in Africa

Agriculture is a powerful tool for reducing poverty and hunger. Events of recent years – such as food price increases, droughts, growing climate change impacts and other emergencies – have put agriculture high on the international agenda.

We should be clear that agriculture is the solution. Economic growth generated by agriculture is more than twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors. Agricultural development is also an effective means of assisting developing countries in building capacity and infrastructure as well as introducing innovation and technology.

Future food and nutrition security and the eradication of poverty will be profoundly influenced by the steps we take today to support the 2 billion people in developing countries who depend on small-scale farms, herding, fishing and other forms of agriculture.

The past year has seen a food security crisis in the Horn of Africa and a developing emergency in the Sahel region of West Africa, where we are just entering the peak hunger season. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme have responded in a variety of ways, from immediate humanitarian relief to building the capacity of smallholders to grow more food, increase their livelihoods and feed their families and communities.

But it is clear that much more needs to be done at every level. Far-reaching partnerships, broader consultation in the formulation and implementation of country-led development processes, as well as long-term commitments, must be made and maintained. In order for development efforts to be successful, it is essential to have the participation of civil society, farmers’ organisations and the private sector at every stage.

Beginning with the L’Aquila Summit three years ago, the G8 has led a serious and sustained process to mobilise support for greater aid to food and nutrition security. At the L’Aquila Summit, $22 billion was pledged over three years. The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) trust fund that emerged from the L’Aquila commitments is a new vehicle to ensure accountability in the implementation process for aid for food security and agriculture to some of the poorest countries in the world.

This financial commitment to support country-owned plans can help to make a big difference, but official development assistance alone has not and will not solve the problem. A favourable climate for investment must be created to attract other resources and partners in the framework of established development plans.

For example, in Africa, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), with its national compacts and investment plans, provides a key platform for public and private efforts to converge towards agricultural development and food security.

Governments are primarily responsible for providing public goods and services that underpin and facilitate private investment, as well as the governance mechanisms that ensure socially and environmentally sustainable benefits from private investment. Farmers and their organisations must also be supported to benefit from increased investments, and they must be engaged from the outset in real, meaningful partnerships from public policy and programme design onward through evaluation.

Private sector investment, particularly through small- and medium-sized enterprises, is a critical factor for reaching the goal of a hunger-free Africa. However, the quality of this investment is of key importance. In this regard, Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, in the Context of National Food Security were endorsed earlier this month by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). Implementing these guidelines, which have been agreed upon by governments, civil society and the private sector, will help ensure that responsible governance of tenure contributes to responsible investment, enabling sustainable social, economic and environmental development around agriculture and towards food security.

The United Nations Rome-based agencies welcome the G8’s renewed commitment to keep food security high on the global agenda and the creation of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. The New Alliance complements ongoing activities and processes, starting from the CAADP itself, and is a tool that can accelerate progress in eradicating hunger and poverty in Africa. These efforts can and will succeed if they support smallholder production and market integration. This includes ensuring that technologies and inputs are adapted to local conditions, and promoting environmentally and socially sustainable farming practices to boost local economies. Stakeholders at the national and local level must drive and own the process from the start.

The New Alliance should avail itself of the opportunities to build upon, and further foster, truly participatory processes involving the G8, African countries, and the private sector, including first and foremost agricultural producers. In this way, it will respond to the needs of rural families and communities, and to the broader needs of African societies.

At the same time, we need to ensure that environmental sustainability is squarely addressed in the type of agricultural investments that are promoted, and that safety nets are in place and emergency preparedness is sustained to protect vulnerable people from the consequences of drought and other shocks.

Together, our agencies have been working with national governments, non-governmental organisations and civil society to help build resilience in developing countries. This includes targeted productive safety nets, such as school meal programmes, and other efforts that ensure that when the next disaster occurs, poor people are better equipped to feed themselves and protect assets such as livestock and property.

We welcome that the New Alliance is promoting a set of enabling tools related to markets and finance, risk and insurance, and science and technology, that can address gaps and strengthen smallholders’ position in the value chain.

We would, however, like to draw particular attention to the need to support women’s empowerment. Women make up nearly half of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa but face disproportionate barriers in access to resources and markets. The New Alliance must also address the aspirations of rural youth, who are key to long-term sustainability and the viability of rural agricultural communities.

Ending hunger and achieving food and nutrition security for the people of Africa is a pressing issue that cannot wait. Smallholders and rural people, who face the daily threat of food insecurity, urgently require access to science, technology and the most basic tools and services that would allow them to invest in their farms and businesses. With these benefits and a renewed commitment across all sectors, we have an opportunity to reduce poverty, solve hunger and strengthen food security.

Originally published on Business Day Online by Jose Graziano da Silva, Kanayo F. Nwanze, & Ertharin Cousin



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