At the conclusion of a meeting at the African Union in Addis Ababa, ministers agreed to take a more holistic approach to tackling hunger. They committed to working with the private sector, farmers’ groups, civil society and academia to increase productivity, while also addressing the underlying causes of malnutrition.
Despite strong economic growth across many parts of Africa over the past 10 years, nearly a quarter of the population – about 240 million people – are undernourished, of whom more than 40% are children under five.
Ministers promised to accelerate efforts to meet the targets of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which emerged from the Maputo agreement in 2003. The programme committed African governments to spend 10% of national budgets on agriculture and increase productivity by 6%. Over the past decade, only 10 countries have achieved these goals.
Leaders also pledged to give women access to more land and credit – 70% of Africa’s agriculture workforce is female – and make the sector more attractive to young people by increasing the use of technology. The final declaration did not set out any concrete targets or cash commitments, and it will therefore fall to delegates at next year’s agriculture-focused AU summit to put flesh on the bones.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairwoman of the AU commission, rejected suggestions that the declaration is just another document to be shelved alongside countless others. “What is important is the political commitment to end hunger, that we should make it our state policies and make sure the poor are taken care of,” she said.
“Africa is a very different place now from the Africa that was [two decades ago] … We’ve spent these past days discussing these matters because we are committed to doing something about it [hunger]. We will implement, and we are already implementing, these things. We are not starting from scratch. This is just to escalate [progress] because we are troubled that people on the continent are still undernourished and don’t get enough food. We are determined to deal with it. Rest assured this will not just be another piece of paper.”
Asked how African governments can increase funding for agriculture when a large chunk of their money comes from international donors with their own ideas about how it should be spent, Dlamini-Zuma expressed confidence that donors will be supportive.
“What we are saying is when donors give us [money] they should be linked to what our priorities are and, if a country wants to end hunger, donors must also accept that their budgets will be used to end hunger. I do hope there is no donor that can say, ‘No, I would like people to be hungry’.”
She added that African countries, few of which trade beyond their own borders, need to increase their trading partners. Brazil and China were mentioned as important trading partners.
At the two-day conference, Toward African renaissance: renewed partnership for a unified approach to end hunger in Africa by 2025 – convened by the FAO, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the Lula Institute – ministers shared their approaches to tackling hunger domestically.
Delegates heard from former Brazil president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva about the Fome Zero (zero hunger) programme, introduced during his two terms in office. Through job creation, targeted support for farmers, an increased minimum wage and a cash transfer programme, Brazil managed to achieve significant economic growth and poverty reduction within eight years.
Lula told the conference that the Brazilian experience could be adapted to suit the needs of African countries. But the crucial thing, he said, is the commitment of politicians to see through their vision to end hunger. He urged for the needs of the poor to be embedded across all government policy.
“If the state does not take care of these people, the national budgets will be fully directed to the organised sectors of the society. Therefore, the government needs to earmark a part of the budget for the poor. If this is not done, the problem of hunger will not be solved today, or by 2025, or never.”
The Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, said: “There is an enormous window of opportunity to eradicate hunger in Africa. Africa cannot afford to lose this opportune moment.”
Civil society and other interest groups will try to ensure African leaders live up to the rhetoric of the past two days.
Alangeh Romanus Che, from Cameroon, chairman of the CAAPD non-state actors co-ordination task team, attended the event to represent farmers’ groups. He said: “There are so many declarations and memorandums that exist, signed by heads of state. But the issue will be implementation. It’s ridiculous to find that 10 years after Maputo, only 10 countries have met their 10% budgets [for agriculture] … We need to hold people to account.”
Within two hours of the final declaration, Che and the co-ordination team were discussing how best to inform organisations in their countries what had been adopted, so they can hold leaders to account.