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Food security conference underway

Panel_discussion_from_the_conferences_opening_day.eIncreasing Agricultural Productivity Critical to Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa 

High-level policymakers, leading academics, and representatives from farmer and trader organizations and the private sector will gather here to identify investment priorities and policy options that can help increase agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa, thereby reducing rural poverty, hunger, and malnutrition in the region.

The November 1–3 conference “Increasing Agricultural Productivity and Enhancing Food Security in Africa: New Challenges and Opportunities,” is co-organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the African Union Commission (AUC), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA).  Speakers and participants will showcase opportunities to improve agricultural productivity and explore how they can be effectively implemented through the framework of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme.

In the past decade, many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have experienced historically rapid economic growth and notable social change, yet poverty, hunger, and malnutrition remain widespread problems. With a large proportion of the population living in rural areas and working in agriculture, the solution to these problems largely lies in increasing agricultural productivity. To achieve this African Heads of State and Government committed to “allocate at least ten percent of the national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development policy implementation within five years” as part of the 2003 Maputo Declaration to accelerate six percent annual agricultural growth.  However, many countries have not put their commitment into practice.

Increasing investment

As a first step, African countries need to gear their efforts to increase investment in agriculture.  But it is not sufficient, and right priorities and sequencing are equally important.Agricultural productivity can be achieved in many ways including spreading knowledge of improved practices to smallholders, increasing the use of high-quality seeds and fertilizer, properly irrigating land, developing strong institutions, linking producers to markets, and appropriately addressing disease and conflict. Urgent actions—especially improving capacity and farmer support systems—are needed among all competing tasks.

Research-based evidence is required to tailor these methods to specific needs. But then this evidence must be communicated to users. FARA’s executive director Monty Jones said, “We must go beyond just research to increase productivity. Strengthening extension services and infrastructure, and implementing policies that support agricultural productivity and increase rural incomes will reduce hunger and poverty.”

According to Josué Dioné, director of UNECA’s Food Security and Sustainable Development Division, “Increasing agricultural productivity in Africa calls for broader policy and strategic frameworks that encompass the whole agriculture value chain, including agribusiness and agro-industrial sectors as well as farming.” Sustainably meeting food demands in the future—despite a growing population and diminishing natural resources—will require a greater emphasis on productivity growth.

“Increasing agricultural productivity is not a panacea to all problems, but it can make a significant positive contribution to resolve issues of food insecurity in Africa,” said Shenggen Fan, IFPRI director general. 

In order for agricultural productivity to improve the lives of the poor, it needs a supportive environment, particularly increased access to markets.

Markets in particular pose a major challenge to poor people in rural areas. “Improving rural infrastructure to facilitate trade of goods—both at the country level, and across borders—would serve as an opportunity to improve food security in Africa,” said Abebe Haile-Gebriel, director of the AUC’s Rural Economy and Agriculture Division.

Experts at the conference will also examine issues related to:

• science, technology, and innovation in agriculture;

• rural services and access to inputs;

• markets, trade, and regional integration and value chains;

• investments, institutions, and policies for supporting agriculture;

• agriculture, nutrition, and health linkages;

• agriculture and climate change mitigation and adaptation;

• capacity development for agriculture through education and training; and

• the nexus of agriculture and the rural nonfarm sector in growth and poverty reduction

“Innovations in investment, institutions, technology, strategy, and partnerships will enhance productivity and greatly enhance food and nutrition security in Africa,” said Fan.
For more information on the conference: http://addis2011.ifpri.info.

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