5 December 2011

Africa: Food Security Challenges Ahead of Africa

The agricultural sector of Africa is likely to face grave challenges in the next 50 to 80 years due to the non-scientific approach to tackling the problems posed by Climate Change, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report.

As the economies of most African countries are rooted in agriculture and about 60% of Africans are engaged in the agriculture sector, there will be serious implications for food security and wealth creation for the rural communities which solely depend on agriculture.

"Projected Climate Change impacts and declining agricultural productivity may compound the risk of food insecurity in Africa and currently, most African countries are net importers with over 50% of North Africa's food requirement and between 25% and 50% in Sub-Saharan Africa imported."

Mr. Kwesi Ahwoi, Minister for Food and Agriculture, made these disclosures in a speech read on his behalf during the opening ceremony of the 1st Pan-African Biotechnology Stewardship Conference in Accra last week. The conference was on the theme Africa In Search Of Safe and High Quality Biotech Crops and featured experts in Biotechnology from around the world.

He explained that the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defined food security to consist of four main components - food availability, accessibility, utilization and system stability (which imply affordability) and Climate change was likely to affect all the four.

"In Ghana, as crop production is mainly under rain fed conditions with increasing land degradation and low levels of irrigation i.e. 6% in Africa (0.4% in Ghana) compared to 38% in Asia, Climate Change can significantly reverse the little progress that has been made towards poverty reduction and food security unless Ghana increases the application of science and technology including biotechnology to improve agriculture productivity," he emphasised.

Speaking specifically to agriculture in Ghana, Mr. Ahwoi said the challenge for the country's agriculture was how to increase agricultural productivity dramatically without significantly increasing its environmental footprints through reckless deforestation using the slash and burn method of land area expansion.

He added that the aim of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture was to significantly increase crop yields and general agricultural productivity through science and technology.

On his part, the Deputy Executive Director of Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Ramadjita Tabo, stated that building Africa's capacity for the safe deployment of biotechnology was the major goal of the Agricultural Biotechnology Bio safety Policy Platform (ABBPP).

This capacity strengthening covers both genetically modified (GM) and non-GM approaches. Thus Africa has to use the tools of modern biotechnology on a need basis to address the problems of hunger and malnutrition whilst ensuring environmental sustainability.

"In this regard we support the mainstreaming of stewardship, the responsible management of technologies in agriculture into the conduct of research and deployment of the technologies. We have demonstrated this supports through the project on strengthening capacity for safe biotechnology management in sub-Saharan which technically and financially, the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) has assisted," he added.

According to Mr. Ahwoi, in spite of 15 years of successful commercialization of GM crops, progress in the adoption of the biotechnology for various reasons had been slow in Africa despite the political will, which now existed in many African countries.

Some of the reasons for the current situation included non-existent or inappropriate Bio safety Legislation, dearth of trained personnel and infrastructure for biotechnology, lack of awareness of biotechnology issues and intellectual property-related issues.

Speaking on food price crisis in Africa, a Professor of Development at the Imperial College in London, Professor Gordon Conway, explained that, the food price crisis in Africa was not a simple transitory event but grew out of the underlying chronic crisis, making it deeper and probably more persistent. It also raised awareness of the underlying drivers.

He explained that these were not distinct processes but they might share common underlying causes and, most importantly, feed on each other, creating the hunger-poverty trap.

He attributed the crisis to rising population, rising per capita income and its effects on diet, growing demand for bio fuels, oil and fertilizer prices, increasing water and land scarcity and impact of Climate Change.

On rising population, he said, according to the latest United Nation's estimates, the global population was set to rise to about eight billion, plus or minus a billion by 2050. Thereafter it might begin to stabilize and fall.

"Inevitably this estimated rise in the population (from seven billion now) will create an ever increasing demand for food. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) model estimates that global cereal demand will therefore need to increase from about 260 million tonnes to over 450 million tonnes by 2050," he explained.

On rising per capita income and its effects on diet, he said, that per capita incomes in countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have increased five-fold (from US$5,000 to US$40,000 in current dollars) over the past 30 years. In South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa they have more than doubled, although to only about US$1,000.

"As incomes rise, people eat more meat and dairy products, causing rapid growth in demand for feed crops, which raises prices .For example, among urban Chinese, meat consumption rose from 25kg to 32kg per person per year in the decade from 1996," he stated.

Professor Conway added that with rising incomes, people bought more processed and higher value foods but not more raw agricultural commodities. Globally, meat consumption is expected to grow by 55 million tonnes to 310 million tonnes per year. Over the next decade, meeting this demand would require feed grain usage to increase by about 50 million tonnes to about 640 million tonnes per year.

On growing demand for bio fuels, he explained that, growing crops to produce bio fuels reduced land and production directed towards growing crops for human consumption, thus contributing to rising prices.

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