Is a new wave of development work towards food security underway in Africa? On the last day of the conference ‘Increasing agricultural productivity and enhancing food security in Africa’, Mafa Chipeta, formerly at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), reminded fellow Africans that solutions to food security on the continent lay not outside, in the foreign expert world, but on domestic soil. And the movement starts with a change of attitude, perhaps leading to a new mantra.
Pointing out that Africa represents close to 16% of the world’s population but makes up only about 1% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Chipeta argued that African leaders would be well advised to boost agricultural productivity if they want their continent to make a difference, or they will be doomed to sitting in a similar conference in ten years from now and come to the same conclusions again.
Food security is a complex problem. It requires collective and integrated solutions, which cut across various disciplines. The task at hand is not easy; even less so if food security is not considered from a fundamental mind shift: Chipeta boldly declared “Africa is in a situation similar to war when it comes to agriculture […] We have to use every necessary measure to change this”. So long as no one feels any urgency, African states will never aim beyond even a 20% increase in productivity.
In the face of this daunting challenge, various suggestions and solutions emerged in the conference:
- Africans should be proud of themselves and not settle with low ambitions – the future of agriculture and food security calls for a sense of self-worth and a far-reaching vision;
- African agriculture requires more serious investments in education and other sectors – just focusing on agriculture is no longer enough. It is time to invite multiple perspectives: Agronomists, pathologists, economists, infrastructure implementers all need to look beyond their own niches;
- Agricultural value chains linking to nutrition and health and other ‘macro-thinking’ measures are crucial;
- Thus, we need more integration and coordination. This is an interesting point that was recently disputed by Owen Barder in his provocative blog post about aid effectiveness. Instead of emphasising coordination, he argued in favour of international transparency of information at local levels, which echoes the next point…
- Use of information is crucial – in the words of Robson Mutandi (International Fund for Agricultural Development / IFAD) it’s not a question of ‘ifs’ any longer but of mobilising existing knowledge, resources and capacities – as part of a wider endeavour to improve governance;
- In the process, the role of regional hubs could be strengthened to support information sharing, coordination and response to food security crisis signals;
African government and other actors on the continent cannot change all their policies and practices in the bat of an eye. What is at stake is a change of attitude that should bring together two complementary sides of the food security challenge: On the one hand, large scale production (with its focus on national policies and macro-economic investments) and on the other, small scale livelihoods approaches (with a focus on integrated approaches at a local scale).
The change required is not short term … it calls for local, tailored solutions that allow progressive, organic development. Altogether, these pointers for the future of African food security might form the shell of a new mantra: Be proud, see far, start small and join hands.