29 October 2012

Rwanda: WB Warns of Increasing Food Demand

Photo: East African
Transporting goods (file photo).

The World Bank has warned that food demand in African countries will continue to rise due to growing rural urban migration across that continent.

The warning is contained in a new report released by the World Bank, last week, African Union (AU) ministerial summit in Addis Ababa on agriculture and trade.

According the report, "Africa Can Help Feed Africa: Removing barriers to regional trade in food staples rapid urbanization," over 19m people live with the threat of hunger and malnutrition in West Africa's Sahel region alone.

"Demand for food will continue to increase, it is projected to double by 2020, and consumers will be increasingly located in Africa's rapidly growing cities," states the report.

The report also indicated that one of the causes of food insecurity and rising food prices on the continent is the existing trade barriers.

Makthar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Africa, argued all governments in Africa to engage in an open and inclusive dialogue with their stakeholders on policies affecting food trade and food security.

He added that emphasis should be put particularly on engaging with neighbours through the regional communities on pursuing a collective approach to food security.

Paul Brenton, World Banks Lead Economist for Africa and principal author of the report, said governments ought to boost food production, so that farmers get the capital, the seeds, and the machinery they need to become more efficient, and families get enough good food at the right price.

Some of the barriers that were highlighted in the report include the unpredictable trade policies that are a liability; the other obstacles to greater African trade in food staples include export and import bans, variable import tariffs and quotas, restrictive rules of origin, and price controls.

"Often devised with little public scrutiny, these policies are then poorly communicated to traders and officials. This process in turn promotes confusion at border crossings, limits greater regional trade, creates uncertain market conditions, and contributes to food price volatility" the report continued.

The World Bank report says that Africa's farmers can potentially grow enough food to feed the continent and avert future food crises if countries remove cross-border restrictions on the food trade within the region.

The continent would also generate an extra $20 billion in yearly earnings if African leaders can agree to dismantle trade barriers that blunt more regional dynamism.

The new report challenge the ability of farmers to ship their cereals and other foods to consumers when the nearest trade market is just across a national border.

Countries south of the Sahara, for example, could significantly boost their food trade over the next several years to manage the deadly impact of worsening drought, rising food prices, rapid population growth, and volatile weather patterns.

With many African farmers effectively cut off from the high-yield seeds, and the affordable fertilizers and pesticides needed to expand their crop production, the continent has turned to foreign imports to meet its growing needs in staple foods.

The new report, suggests that if the continents leaders can embrace more dynamic inter-regional trade, Africa's farmers, the majority of whom are women, could potentially meet the continents rising demand and benefit from a major growth opportunity.

It would also create more jobs in services such as distribution, while reducing poverty and cutting back on expensive food imports. Africa's production of staple foods is worth at least US$50 billion a year.

Fortunately, Africa does have the means and opportunities to deal with and deliver improved food security for its citizens.

If African farmers were to achieve the yields that farmers are attaining in other developing countries then output of staples would easily double or even triple. On top of this barely a fraction of fertile agricultural land is being cultivated - just 10 per cent of the 400 million hectares of agricultural land in the Guinea Savannah zone that covers a large part of Africa.

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