Wednesday, February 10, 2010

We need to realise Africa's potential on agriculture

Sithembile Ndema has an opinion piece in the Katine Chronicles blog, part of the aGuardian (UK): …Climate change is exacerbating an already poor food supply in Africa, leaving farmers less capable of providing for themselves, let alone their communities. The problems vary across the continent – droughts, flash floods, early rains, late frosts – but they all threaten to make farmers' traditional planting knowledge obsolete. A recent report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) projects that wheat, rice and maize yields in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to drop by 34%, 15% and 10% respectively by 2050.

After years of neglect, agriculture must again be recognised as a fundamental driver of economic growth. Some 60% of Africans rely on agriculture for their livelihood, four-fifths of whom are women. And throughout sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture is a key source of foreign exchange (for example, about 80% of Malawi's foreign exchange comes from agricultural exports). Consequently, people are recognising that the relationship between climate change and agriculture must be addressed in tandem with other policy and programme outcomes.

African farmers must be able to access the knowledge and tools they need to unleash agriculture's full potential for the continent. Existing knowledge must reach more farmers, new research must focus on Africa-specific solutions and progressive policies must support infrastructure and education programmes to build capacity.

The winner of last year's World Food Prize is a good example of how African research can produce tangible results. Dr Gebisa Ejeta, an Ethiopian plant scientist, has worked for 30 years to develop improved varieties of sorghum for farmers. Sorghum, largely unknown in the developed world, is the key staple food for more than 500 million Africans.

…But African-born innovations do not have to come from science alone. One of my responsibilities at FANRPAN is to coordinate a programme aimed at getting women farmers more involved in shaping policies that affect their daily lives, from the local distribution of subsidised seed to the regional coordination of export markets to enable trade. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the WARM project – Women Accessing Realigned Markets – is predicated on the simple fact that agricultural policies should reflect the behaviours and needs of the African farmers who are most impacted by them if they are to be successful….

Palm oil production in Ghana, in a shot from the oneVillage Initiative, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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