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A two-day conference on revitalizing African agriculture opened on Wednesday in Tunis with policymakers and agriculture experts from the Bank’s regional member countries and representatives of other development agencies in attendance. Held on the theme: "Revitalizing African Agriculture: Its Implication for Addressing the Food Crisis", the conference is reviewing partner countries’ experiences in addressing the current food crisis. It will provide the Multilateral Development Banks (MDB)-Task force meeting with RMC with perspectives on the need for donors to leverage support to the agriculture sector in a coordinated and effective manner. Participants at the conference are focusing on harmonizing and aligning Africa’s agricultural sector, designing and implementing national agriculture and food security strategies within the context of poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSP), building capacity and providing institutional support to ministries of agriculture and providing future directions for African agriculture.
Opening the event, the Bank Group’s Operations and Sector Vice President, Zeinab El-Bakri, said "We are optimistic and convinced that the decisions from this meeting will open a new chapter and renew our commitment and concerted resolve to create the requisite opportunities leading to the sustainable development of agriculture across Africa."
"The underlying causes of the current food prices increase are numerous and known to each one of us and I do not wish to enumerate them further. However, it suffices to say that the causes range from ineffective polices to utter neglect of agriculture and rural development in many of our countries. You will agree with me that African countries have never lacked agricultural policies whether at national, regional and/or international levels. Indeed I would safely say that all countries have national agricultural policies and strategies within which all of us - development partners, buy in and operate. Besides, there are regional strategies like the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) and globally the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) around which countries have developed their poverty reduction frameworks," she said.
She pointed out that "our major problem, however, has been the non-implementation or quasi implementation of these policies and strategies whose effect is being felt today. Rather, we have resorted to giving lip service and resolutions that are never followed through. In my view this is a major bottleneck and one which has to be addressed effectively if any meaningful progress in agricultural development is to be achieved. One vivid example on this is the unfulfilled Maputo Declaration of 2003 by African Countries to commit at least 10 per cent of budgetary allocations for agricultural and rural development. According to the Survey conducted by the African Union in 2006, only a handful of countries have managed to attain this level. The majority of countries are still lagging below the halfway mark of 5 per cent although many more countries have recently reported an upward trend of between 5 and 10 per cent."
She explained that the Bank Group had responded to the crisis by undertaking some initiatives that could help the continent cushion the effects of the crisis.
"In the wake of the current food crisis, the Bank has reacted affirmatively by launching a number of initiatives, including undertaking of a stock-taking exercise to identify needs of African partner countries to address the current food crisis and revitalize agriculture in the medium to long terms. Similarly, the Bank has collected information on current development partners’ activity, and planned resource allocations in the agriculture sector in Africa. This mapping exercise will be discussed with partners who will be meeting in Tunis over the next two days. It is hoped that this will lead to the identification of financing gaps and neglected areas of intervention in agriculture," she said.
She called on participants to take into consideration other factors, besides ineffective agricultural policies. She noted that these impediments did not only affect agriculture, but the entire economy.
"As we come up with recommendations on how to address the food crisis in Africa, we take cognisance of the fact that besides ineffectual policies that I alluded to earlier; there are other impediments that affect not only agricultural development, but overall economic development. These include factors like climate change with its accompanying drought, floods, pests and diseases; the rising fuel prices; poor governance as well as political and civil strife in some parts of the continent. All these are related to the current food crisis and will continue affecting our decision-making process in the foreseeable future," she said.