Emergency Food Summit-AfDB Underscores Need for Smallholder Agricultural Revolution in Africa
Tunis, 4 June 2008 – The African Development Bank (AfDB) Group has underscored the urgent need for a "Smallholder Agricultural Revolution in Africa", as the continent’s best option for tackling the escalating global food crisis which is the focus of the just concluded United Nations Emergency Food Crisis Summit in Rome, Italy.
In a speech delivered at the 2-4 June Summit attended by some 44 world leaders and high-level representatives from 151 countries, the AfDB President, Donald Kaberuka, noted that the escalating global food crisis was a major setback, threatening to throw back millions into poverty and rolling back many of the gains in human development and macro-economic stabilization of the last decade.
Mr. Kaberuka noted that both the causes and the consequences of the crisis were well known and that the political will to tackle it was no longer in doubt. He said while the immediate response for bilateral organisations and UN agencies was to provide emergency support and food to vulnerable people and countries most at risk, this should be followed by measures to deal with macro economic stress and the longer term challenge of enhancing agricultural productivity and food security, especially in Africa.
He said it was impossible to create food security anywhere without a smooth trading system at local, national, regional and global levels, and reiterated the call by other participants for the reduction of trade barriers and the need for collective action on finding a lasting solution to the food crisis.
Mr. Kaberuka commended the swift international action to provide food supplies to protect the poor and the vulnerable, saying the people most at risk were urban migrants, rural families who purchase food, and people in fragile states where markets do not function well.
"The world has the means to prevent starvation in the 21st century! We have the means to feed the hungry and save millions at risk," he said, adding that it is not enough to feed hungry people, but rather to provide them with the means to feed themselves.
In this regard, he said, the Bank Group was restructuring up to US$ 250 million of its agricultural portfolio to help accelerate agricultural production in the short term by facilitating the purchase of fertilizers and inputs.
For Africa, he explained, the food crisis could also be the opportunity for poor African farmers to turn farming into a business, rather than a way of scraping for a living, through irrigated farming or simply through intensive agriculture.
"A smallholder agricultural revolution in Africa is desirable, feasible and long overdue. We know what to do. But for it to happen, it will require not just resources, but also a rethink, based on our experience in the past," he emphasized
"To achieve this, there will be a need for crowding in more private investment and quality support by the State. We must devise ways of attracting and supporting more private sector agriculture. Private businesses which have been successful in growing flowers can surely grow cereals. The time for agriculture as a business, is now."
Mr Kaberuka cited the Bank Group’s consistent support to agricultural development in Africa, noting that the Group, together with the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), account for over 50 percent of all multilateral agencies’ interventions in African agriculture, with an ongoing active portfolio of about 3.8 billion dollars.
"In response to the current challenges, we will be committing another US 1 billion in support of agricultural infrastructure, rural finance and support to research and extension," he said
The AfDB President also emphasized the need to use this opportunity to clearly bias policy in favour women and girls who account for over half of Africa’s farmers, tilling the land with their bare hands to scrape out a living. He said this was a condition for the success of an agricultural transformation on the continent.
"Recovery of our agriculture, which does not frontload the interest of the women majority farmers, is doomed to fail," Mr. Kaberuka said. He said the Bank Group would focus on access to productive assets, rural financing, and economic opportunities for women, including off farm activities, in collaboration with the Bank’s partners.
Pledges of almost 3 US$ billion of emergency aid were made at the Summit on Wednesday, but UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said more than US$ 20 billion would be needed each year to avoid disaster.
Also, new funding totalling some US$2.7 billion was announced on the second day of the summit in Rome, where Mr. Ban has already demanded a 50 percent increase in food production by 2030.
The UN World Food Programme announced US$1.2 billion dollars in new food aid to the millions of people hard hit by the crisis.
The Islamic Development Bank said it would spend US$1.5 billion on agriculture in the poorest countries.
The World Bank said food prices had doubled in three years, sparking riots in many countries including Egypt and other African countries as well as Haiti. Brazil, Vietnam, India and Egypt have all imposed food export restrictions. Meanwhile, the World Bank President, Robert Zoellick has called for the lifting of trade barriers that contribute to food price inflation.
John Holmes, head of the UN task force on the food crisis, said a "broad consensus" was building around the action plan, which should be completed by the end of June for presentation at the G-8 meeting in Japan.