For decades food security and self-sufficiency in Africa have been seen as a distant dream. The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, however, hopes to make it a reality, and while it may have begun with a slow start, its coordinators are confident it will produce more positive results in the coming years.
The programme is implemented through the African Union's (AU) Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture (DREA), which was set up to improve food security, achieve sustainable development and improve livelihoods on the continent.
While nearly 80 percent of people in Africa live in rural areas and depend on farming for their food and income, a concern repeatedly voiced by AU parliamentarians is the issue of the continent's over-dependence on food aid and imports.
Egyptian MP Moussa Hozen Elsayed said his country imported 70 percent of their food products and voiced his concern about the lack of regional cooperation between African countries regarding food trade.
"By importing so much food we are really decreasing the region's food security," Elsayed told IPS, explaining that he hoped CAADP would be strengthened in the coming years to solve the problem.
"We really need to make sure that countries in the region are looking for products from each other before importing from outside the continent."
Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture's director Dr. Abebe Haile Gabriel told IPS that this was one of CAADP's main goals.
"We want to improve food security by increasing regional cooperation - there is no need to import food products from Europe or Latin America when your next door neighbour has products which need buying," he said.
Although the first African country only signed the CAADP Compact in 2009, the programme has advanced greatly in the last three years. Now 30 AU member states have signed the compacts, which require them to devote at least 10 percent of their budgets to agriculture.
Under the programme, countries draw up comprehensive investment plans that include the four CAADP pillars: sustainable land and water management; improved market access and integration; increased food supplies and reduced hunger; and research, technology generation and dissemination.
One of the key beliefs behind CAADP's framework is that regional integration and trade between countries will improve food security. As a result, substantial efforts have been made to improve regional infrastructure for trade and more are expected in coming years.
During a meeting that ended on Nov. 21 in Johannesburg, Gabriel had told AU parliamentarians that over 45 billion dollars were spent by African countries importing food, which drains much of the continent's foreign currency. He argued that this showed that Africa had not taken advantage of its comparative advantage, which is food production.
"We are working towards making sure inter-African trade is really boosted, and therefore Africa takes advantage of the growing demand by increasing African production and productivity to meet it," said Gabriel.
Some countries have responded better than others to CAADP's proposed framework. Rwanda, Ethiopia and Mozambique have been heralded for their progress and efforts to alleviate hunger and food insecurity.
Mozambique, although it only became an active CAADP member in 2011, has begun a system of distributing part of its budget to every district for agriculturally-led development.
"It is important to underline that CAADP was launched in Maputo, Mozambique in 2003, so it is in the spirit of all Mozambicans," Franciso Ussene Mucanheia, director of the Rural and Agriculture Committee in Mozambique, told IPS.
"All the pillars and visions of CAADP are key to the policies the Mozambican government has put in place to capitalise agricultural developments and we are already starting to see the benefits."
It appears other member states are increasingly taking CAADP seriously. Twenty-three countries have developed detailed national agriculture and food security investment plans and 11 of these countries have received additional funds from the Global Food and Agriculture Security Program created to support food security programmes in line with CAADP.
Seven of the member states are also "first wave" countries under the Grow Africa initiative, which is designed to bring international private sector investment to their agricultural supply chain.
In collaboration with the World Economic Forum, the idea is to encourage governments to partner with businesses with support from international organisations to invest in their own country, and their own agricultural system. So far over 30 billion dollars has been raised, which has allowed for financial models for specific value chains.
While many African countries have a lot to catch up with in order to be in line with CAADP's goals, it is clear that many of the member states are waking up to the importance of the programme. It might already have been 10 years next year since CAADP was initiated but it appears the story might have just begun.
"For us the dividends of aligning national policies and strategies along the principles of CAADP are yet to come," said Gabriel. "We are very much looking forward to seeing more pronounced development in the future as the investments which are just starting now begin to yield results."