19 June 2012

Africa: Fund Aims to Put New Technology in Poor Farmers' Hands

Five donor governments are backing a new scheme to use innovative technology to help poor African farmers boost food security, they announced at the G20 summit in Mexico on Monday.

The scheme is supported by Britain, Canada, the United States, Italy and Australia, as well as the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The aim is to provide funding of up to $100 million to bring tried and tested products to a wider market by providing incentives for the private sector, such as large grain traders, cereal millers and food processing firms.

The first three pilot projects will develop, market and distribute improved crop storage in Kenya, help Zambian farmers grow maize varieties rich in vitamin A, and reduce contamination of maize crops in Nigeria by the aflatoxin fungus, a potent carcinogen.

"Far too many creative and successful products have failed to get into the hands of the farmers who need them most," Britain's International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell said in a press release issued in London.

"Many promising pieces of agricultural technology have the potential to transform farming, but a lack of investment or a market for their goods prevents them from getting off the drawing board," he added.

The World Bank said the "AgResults" initiative will use so-called "pull mechanisms" to encourage innovation through results-based payments such as prizes which are typically paid out when certain objectives or milestones are met.

The idea grew from a commitment by leaders at the June 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto to explore ways of harnessing private-sector innovations in food security and agricultural development in poorer countries, it noted.

Britain's Department for International Development said similar financing has already made the production and supply of new life-saving vaccines much cheaper in developing countries.

"Building demand for new products and providing incentives to help get them to market will give farmers the tools they need to grow more healthy and sustainable crops," Mitchell said.

Additional pilot projects will be explored in the coming years, which could involve livestock vaccines and fertilisers, as well as new ideas to boost crop yields, decrease post-harvest losses, raise livestock productivity and improve nutrition, according to the World Bank.

TACKLING MALNUTRITION

Kate Dooley, policy spokesperson for Save the Children UK, said the fund would play an important role in identifying new channels for boosting agricultural production in developing countries.

"With malnutrition responsible for nearly 3 million child deaths each year, it is particularly encouraging that the initiative includes a pilot focused on biofortification - enhancing the nutritional value of crops," she said.

"But ensuring children thrive beyond the fragile first 1,000 days of life requires a broader package of direct and indirect nutrition interventions."

On Tuesday, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) issued a statement calling on G20 leaders meeting in Mexico to redouble their efforts to fight hunger.

They said food and nutrition security must be at the centre of the sustainable development agenda, with a particular focus on smallholder agriculture - a message they are taking jointly to the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in Brazil this week.

"In the past few years we have seen how food insecurity can trigger instability and crisis, and the major toll that the latter can take on food security in return," they said.

"We now know that food insecurity can have a long-lasting negative impact on the growth prospects of entire societies. This suggests that attention to food security needs to be maintained - perhaps especially so - in times of financial crisis and uncertainty."

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