02 October 08, Cotonou, Benin –
Invited by the UN Secretary General as a lead discussant for the thematic roundtable on Poverty and Hunger at the recent UN high-level event on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) Director General Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck affirmed that Africa could become one of the largest granaries of the world, provided African leaders and stakeholders recognize and make optimal use of the continent’s huge multi-faceted and untapped resources.
“Africa has enough water, land, large agro-ecological diversity, human capital and technologies that are available but lie underutilized because of the lack of effective innovation systems,” Dr Seck stated at the roundtable on Poverty and Hunger, which was co-chaired by H.E. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Prime Minister of Spain, H.E. Bingu Wa Mutharika, President of Malawi and H.E. Yayi Boni, President of Benin. The President of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Mr. Lennart Bage, acted as a Rapporteur.
More than 65 Heads of State and Government and representatives from international organizations, private sector, civil society, and philanthropic foundations attended this roundtable. Dr Seck was accompanied by the WARDA Board Chair Mr Getachew Engida.
The high-level event was jointly convened by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the President of the UN General Assembly Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann to evaluate the progress made towards achieving the MDGs at the halfway point towards the 2015 target. The roundtable discussions helped pinpoint gaps and identify further steps to speed up progress toward achieving the MDGs.
In his speech titled “Can Africa feed itself?” Dr Seck underlined that the combination of four factors – appropriate technologies, infrastructure quality, economic and institutional environment and preservation of natural resources – would positively transform African agriculture.
Dr Seck said that a recent simulation study by WARDA showed that Africa could become a net exporter of rice, providing more than 5 million tonnes per year to the international market while ensuring cost and quality competitiveness. It would be possible to achieve this by increasing the area under rice cultivation by 15% without deforestation, and by adopting NERICA® and other improved rice varieties and farming practices developed by WARDA and its partners.
Stressing that Africa can feed itself, Dr Seck proposed a 6-point concrete action plan to reach this goal:
- Provide appropriate support to agriculture: It is imperative to correct the mistakes of the past relating to agricultural policy in Africa that led to the abandonment of rural priorities for the benefit of the so-called rationalization of public expenditure and premature liberalization. Only 10 out of 53 African countries have fulfilled their commitment made 5 years ago in Maputo to allocate 10% of the national budget to agricultural development.
- Increase investment in agricultural research: Africa only accounts for 0.3% of the world’s scientific publications and has only 70 researchers per 1 million inhabitants compared with 4380 for Japan. To improve Africa’s research capacity, national programs, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and advanced research institutes (ARI) working in Africa need to be strongly supported.
- Improve water control: According to FAO, Africa uses only 4% of its renewable water resources. Through efficient water control, African farmers can increase cropping intensity and yields. For example, the yield of irrigated rice is 3 to 4 times higher than that of upland (dryland) rice.
- Develop basic infrastructure (storage, roads etc.): This will help reduce post-harvest losses (which accounts for 40 to 60% of production), improve access to markets, increase rural incomes by at least 30% and reduce transaction costs.
- Provide targeted subsidies for the purchase of inputs (seeds, fertilizers and small machinery): In Africa, without targeted subsidies, significant increase in yields is not possible, because each innovation has a cost which needs to be supported.
- Support national, regional and pan-African strategies to boost agriculture: It is important for the international community to support initiatives such as theComprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)
“By increasing support to African agriculture, the international community will strengthen one of the biggest contributors of world food security of the future,” Dr Seck concluded.
The Africa Rice Center’s involvement in these high level deliberations has led to a greater awareness of the Center’s excellent work to date amongst world leaders.