LONDON (AlertNet) – New approaches to agricultural productivity could help alleviate widespread poverty, malnutrition and hunger in many African countries, international development and agriculture experts said at a conference this week in Ethiopia focused on boosting agricultural output in Africa.
In 2003, African heads of state agreed to allocate 10 percent of their national budget to agriculture and rural development policy within five years. That target was not reached, but as a whole African countries have since managed to double their spending on agricultural and rural policy from an average of 3 percent to 6 percent of national spending, said Shenggen Fan, the director of the International Food Policy Research Institute, an organization that works to find sustainable solutions to ending poverty and hunger.
The problem is “that is not enough,” Fan said in a telephone interview.
Agricultural productivity in Africa is particularly imperiled by climate change impacts, including more extreme and unpredictable weather. Reducing climate-changing emissions and finding ways to adapt to changes already underway will be key, Fan said.
African countries suffer disproportionately more from climate change than most places in the world, in part because many farmers are poor and lack resources to prepare for climate impacts or respond to setbacks from problems like crop failure, experts say.
African countries are very prone to weather shocks, Fan said, and these will continually happen “more often, more frequently than before.”
Fan stressed the importance of finding new crop varieties that are resistant to drought and more resilient when weather shocks occur. He also said unconventional approaches, like organic farming, should be looked into as potential farming strategies for some parts of the continent.
“Increasing agricultural productivity is not the panacea to all problems, but it can make a significant positive contribution to resolve issues of food insecurity in Africa,” he said.
The conference, which brought together policy makers, academics, member of private companies and representatives from farmer and trader organizations, aimed to help create a broad new policy framework for improving agricultural productivity in Africa.
“Increasing agricultural productivity in Africa calls for broader policy and strategic frameworks that encompass the whole agricultural value chain,” said Josué Dioné, a food security and sustainable development expert from United Nation’s Economic Commission for Africa.
Agro-businesses, as well as small-scale farmers, need to be taken into account and included in the new agricultural policy for it to be effective, he said.
Fan believes the five most effective approaches for African governments can employ to boost agricultural productivity are to increase investment in agriculture, ensure Africans – rather than outsiders – make policy for the continent, focus on the small-scale farmer’s role in the agricultural chain, promote trade and access to markets and enhance agricultural technology and infrastructure.
According to Monty Jones, executive director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, “Strengthening extension services and infrastructure, and implementing policies that support agricultural productivity and increase rural incomes, will reduce hunger and poverty.”
Katie Murray is an AlertNet Climate intern.