LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ten years after African leaders promised to spend at least 10 percent of their national budgets on agriculture, development and farmers' groups have called on African governments to invest more and better in the sector, focusing on smallholders, women and livestock.
In a statement on Wednesday, the GROW campaign - backed by Oxfam and several West African networks - reported "a sad state of affairs" on the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Maputo Declaration in which the spending pledge was made, with an initial deadline of 2008.
Only seven African countries consistently reached the 10 percent target between 2003 and 2009, five of them in West Africa, it noted.
"In 2003, the African Heads of State raised a lot of hopes by putting agriculture back at the heart of the continent’s political agenda. Ten years on, the symbolic threshold of Maputo still remains an unattained target for almost 80 percent of African countries," said Aliou Ibrahima, general secretary of the Association for the Promotion of Livestock Farming in the Sahel and Savannahs (APESS). "African leaders must fulfil, or even exceed, their commitment to this 10 percent, but above all they must review the quality of their investments."
Last week, the African Union said 10 of its 54 member states had now reached the 10 percent minimum for public investment in agriculture. They include Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi, Mali, Niger and Senegal - which have already exceeded the goal.
According to the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), 10 countries have surpassed a further Africa-wide target to achieve at least 6 percent growth in agricultural production, with another four states reaching growth of between 5 and 6 percent.
Despite individual success stories, the vast majority of African states are still underfunding a sector that is pivotal in preventing hunger and poverty. And even where they do spend the agreed amount, too much of the money is going to large farms and government operational expenses, the GROW campaign said.
"By making high-quality investment in agriculture a priority, governments can guarantee food sovereignty for West Africa and secure the well-being of its people," said Eric Hazard, the campaign's West Africa manager. "People have a right to food, but to make this right a reality, it is essential to invest more and better in small-scale farms, particularly livestock, which employ nearly two thirds of the region's population."
The campaign examined government spending on the livestock sector in some Sahel countries and found that in Niger, while livestock accounts for over a fifth of exports, it received just 1.7 percent of the national budget in 2009. In Senegal, animal-rearing makes up nearly a third of national economic activity, but garnered only 9 percent of resources allocated to agriculture as a whole from 2005-2009.
All member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have developed National Agriculture Investment Plans, which recognise the role and potential of family-run farms, but few have programmes specifically focused on them, the GROW campaign said.
There is also scant evidence of farm investments being targeted at women in the region, who contribute to the production of 80 percent of basic foodstuffs but represent only 8 percent of land owners and access just 10 percent of available credit, it added.
ENDING AFRICAN HUNGER BY 2025
The call for agricultural spending to be ramped up and channeled to those who need it most comes shortly after African Union states adopted a declaration to end hunger in Africa by 2025, at a meeting in Addis Ababa on July 1.
The declaration called for policies to promote sustainable agricultural development combined with social protection, and for government spending to be focused on the poor. It also recognised the importance of the private sector and civil society in ensuring stable supplies of food.
"To achieve food security in a sustainable way, we must work with small-scale producers, helping them increase production and productivity, but we also need to look at access to food, and ensure that poor families have the means to produce the food they need or earn the income needed to buy their food," Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), told the gathering.
The African Union has declared 2014 as the Year of Agriculture and Food Security. Every three years, countries that make significant efforts and progress toward eradicating hunger by 2025 will receive an award at the African Union Summit.
Eleven African countries have achieved the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of hungry people between 1990 and 2015 three years before the deadline. They are Algeria, Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ghana, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, and Togo.
But at the launch of a flagship report on food insecurity last October, the FAO head warned that the battle against hunger is being lost in much of Africa. Modest progress in sub-Saharan Africa until 2007 has been reversed, with hunger rising 2 percent per year since then. The number of undernourished people in the region has risen to 234 million, from 170 million in 1990-1992, he noted.
High food prices and recurring drought have combined to cause hunger crises across large swathes of East Africa and the Sahel since 2008, with political conflicts exacerbating the situation in some countries.