Saturday, May 21, 2011

Food Security: G8-Africa Partnership an Opportunity to Improve Food Security

Photo Credit: IFPRI

By Shenggen Fan*

Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

WASHINGTON (IDN) - When G8 leaders gather in Deauville, France on May 26-27 for their annual summit, one of their top priorities will be strengthening their partnership with Africa, including on issues related to food security and poverty reduction, and the critical role of agriculture in achieving these goals.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in Sub-Saharan Africa, where agriculture accounts for 30 to 40 percent of total gross domestic product (GDP) and almost 60 percent of export earnings. Agriculture is also the primary source of income and employment for many Africans, including most of the continent’s poorest citizens.

In recent years, many global and national promises have been made reinforcing the importance of agriculture for promoting development and alleviating hunger. But decision makers at all levels have often failed to make good on those commitments. Monitoring progress on past pledges -- by international donors and African policymakers alike -- also needs to be high on the Deauville agenda. In the face of growing challenges to global food security, such as high and volatile food prices, the rising cost of energy, and climate change, we cannot afford to let good intentions remain just that.

Recognizing that agriculture must play a central role in stimulating economic growth and development across the continent, in 2003, African leaders launched the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and agreed to allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture. Although most countries have made progress toward this target, less than a dozen have achieved it.

From 2000 to 2007, public spending on agriculture as a share of agricultural GDP -- which takes into account the relative size and importance of the sector -- decreased from 4.4 percent to 2.5 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, during the same period, public agricultural expenditures in the region grew by 47 percent in absolute terms, which was significant, but considerably less than East Asia and the Pacific and South Asia, which increased spending by 86 percent and 65 percent, respectively.

Historically, African governments have spent much less on agriculture than their counterparts in other developing countries, but now is the time to reverse that trend. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region of the developing world expected to have more poor people in 2015 than it did in 1990. Hunger and malnutrition continue to affect nearly 30 percent of the population. In Eastern and Central Africa, the percentage of people living on less than a dollar a day actually increased during the past two decades. An agricultural revival on the continent could help countries tackle these problems and enable them to take advantage of the renewed global interest in agriculture.

After more than two decades of neglect, official development assistance (ODA) to agriculture is gradually on the rise. From the mid-2000s to 2009, ODA commitments to agriculture increased from US$5 billion to nearly US$10 billion, not counting contributions from all multilateral donors. During the same time period, the share of total official development assistance spent on agriculture grew from 4 to 6 percent. At the G8 summit in L'Aquila in 2009, world leaders pledged more than US$20 billion to boost food security and agricultural development. And last year, a multilateral fund, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, was launched with the goal of improving agricultural production, crop productivity, and food security.

Although these financial commitments are substantial, challenges remain. First and foremost, donors need to make good on their promises -- as do African governments themselves.

Second, investments in agriculture should reflect a country’s national priorities, contribute to an overall development strategy, and be supported by good governance and effective policies. Finally, determining the "how" of agricultural spending is as important as the "how much."

In a world where public resources are not only limited but often scarce, prioritizing investments to maximize benefits and on-the-ground impact is critical. Because countries have different political and economic systems, natural resource endowments, and socioeconomic conditions, a one-size-fits-all strategy will not work. However, IFPRI research shows that in general, spending on agricultural research and development, education, and rural infrastructure -- especially rural feeder roads in Africa -- are most effective for promoting agricultural growth and reducing poverty.

If G8 leaders are serious about their partnership with Africa, they need to ensure, in a spirit of mutual accountability, that African countries have every opportunity to capitalize on agriculture’s immense potential -- beginning with the fulfilment of past pledges. With African countries firmly in the driver’s seat, agriculture can shape and impact development on the continent and ultimately improve the health and wellbeing of all citizens.

* The writer is Director General of International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington D.C.