The African bread­bas­ket

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

On the first World Food Day in 1945, peo­ple around the world cel­e­brated the cre­ation of the United Na­tions Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion and the launch of the first co­or­di­nated global ac­tion to com­bat hunger. This year, on the 70th World Food Day, coun­tries are mo­bil­is­ing be­hind the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals – one of which calls for the elim­i­na­tion of hunger and mal­nu­tri­tion by 2030, to­gether with the cre­ation of a more re­silient and sus­tain­able food sys­tem. Can it be done?

With the world pop­u­la­tion grow­ing rapidly (to an es­ti­mated 8.5 bil­lion by 2030), the im­pact of cli­mate change be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ap­par­ent, and the amount of arable land dwin­dling, there can be no deny­ing that achiev­ing this goal will be a daunt­ing chal­lenge. But for Africa, which boasts 60% of the world’s arable land and cli­mates con­ducive to a tremen­dous di­ver­sity of crops, striv­ing to do so rep­re­sents a re­mark­able op­por­tu­nity to en­sure food se­cu­rity for Africans (one in four is un­der­nour­ished) and boost its econ­omy by be­com­ing a ma­jor food ex­porter.

Though many African economies have ex­pe­ri­enced rapid growth in re­cent years, the agri­cul­tural sec­tor has re­mained stag­nant. In­deed, African agri­cul­ture is still dom­i­nated by small-scale farm­ers who lack ac­cess to pro­duc­tiv­ity-boost­ing tech­nol­ogy, fo­cus mainly on a nar­row range of prod­ucts, and re­main poorly linked to mar­kets, manufacturing, and the broader econ­omy. Be­yond un­der­min­ing food se­cu­rity – Africa re­mains a ma­jor food im­porter – low agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity con­trib­utes to the per­sis­tence of ru­ral poverty, even as a mid­dle class emerges in many of Africa’s ci­ties.

Africa can and should be the world’s bread­bas­ket. But to re­alise this vi­sion – and to do it in an en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able way – its agri­cul­tural sec­tor must un­dergo a gen­uine trans­for­ma­tion that en­tails higher cap­i­tal in­vest­ment, sig­nif­i­cant crop di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion, and im­proved link­ages to bur­geon­ing ur­ban con­sumer mar­kets. More­over, Africa must start manufacturing more value-added food prod­ucts for both in­ter­nal con­sump­tion and ex­port, es­pe­cially to coun­tries like In­dia and China, where de­mand is

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