28 February 2014

Africa Needs More Investment in Agriculture - Marc Wegerif

Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN
A woman farms rice on her farm in Kaduna State Nigeria.

Marc Wegerif coordinates Oxfam's Economic Justice campaign in East Africa, working with partners to bring about fair policies for small farmers, pastoralists and communities affected by climate change. He is based in Tanzania.

He was in Nigeria recently as part of his work on Female Food Hero award. Oxfam is working in a number of countries where they are rolling it out as a way of celebrating women's contribution to agriculture and food security.

In this interview with JIMOH BABATUNDE, he shares his thoughts on female farmers, smallholder farmers and Africa Union's Maputo declaration on budget for agriculture.

Here is an excerpt.

On how long the award has been on

It started two years ago in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Nigeria, we have had two awards, but what we are doing in Nigeria now is really scaling it up to a bigger public reach.

We had the award, but now we want to take it to a national level and in particular, we also want to have entertainment and television component, so we are looking at reality TV format which will give more platform for those women to share their experiences with the public learning through viewing the programme.

So by the International Women Day on March 8th, we will be announcing the format and will have the final award on the 15thof October, but we are going for something bigger with much wider public reach.

On his experience working with African female farmers

I think there are many women, despite the challenges they face, who are really doing something special to feed their families, their communities and feed the country .At the end of the day, we hear of the challenges and difficulties these women face, but what we are doing with the female food initiative is to find those successes and what the women are doing to improve their family lives through farming.

I think that is what we want to show and that becomes encouraging to other women, so that people can learn from one another. There are other successful young women farmers in Nigeria, let us expose them, give them the exposure that they deserve and let other people learn from them.

We are not just taking the richest farmers; we are taking those farmers who are good representatives of the millions of hard working women that others can identify with, not really those who inherited some big money, but those who have the challenges, struggle, find new innovation, something that make their production special and more sustainable and profitable.

On what they are driving at

What we are driving at is achieving food security, economic growth and social development for our countries and we want to see an improvement that benefit the majority of people and that is why agriculture is interesting, because that is where majority of the people are still.

Even in Nigeria with all the oil money, industries, Nollywood, most people are still in agriculture, that is the starting point, not to say they must not stay in agriculture, but let them thrive there but if they move on from that with better education, with more money behind them, let them do something better that is great.

We need as a continent to be serious too. At the moment, we are importing food into Nigeria. We import about 40billion Dollar worth of food into Africa every year, yet we have the potentials to grow food not only for ourselves, but export around the world.

Agriculture can be a real driving force for growth and improvement in the lives of majority of people. That is what we want to see.

On how Africa can move forward with agriculture

One of the things we have seen is lack of investment in agriculture. Nigeria was a food exporter up to the 80s, it was an agricultural giant, and it was exporting. Look at a country like Brazil, they kept on investing in agriculture as a key part of their economy, they have other natural resources as well, they have more industries than we have in Nigeria. They manufacture cars and they still have agriculture as the heart of their economy.

And now they are a major agricultural exporter. We see Brazilian companies coming to invest in agriculture in Africa, especially where they have historical connection like in Mozambique. Why not see Nigerian companies going to invest in agriculture elsewhere in the future? But let us start here and build on what we have to make it a success.

That means investing in agriculture, investing in smallholder farmers, because that is where the majority of farmers are, giving them the supporting environment. The majority of women farmers produce the food in Africa and most of them don't even have rights on the lands they are producing on.

So how do you produce effectively and invest on a land you don't even have a right? This is the basic thing that we have to get right.

On AU's Maputo declaration of 10% budget to agriculture

Let us celebrate the countries that have achieved that and some countries have done that. And we appreciate that there is a renewed interest in agriculture and we see that by the African Union declaring this year for agriculture and food security.

Let me not dwell on what has not been done, but let us say something is happening and more countries are achieving that. We hope Nigeria will also follow suit and even if it does not get to 10%, let us see an increase, but very important as well is how that money is used.

You can put your 10% in your budget, but if they are still spent on recurrent like salaries, office equipment, cars, there is problem. So we are also saying yet there is need for 10 per cent, but make sure the money gets to the farmers and specially to the small-scale woman farmer as that is where the biggest change can happen.

On who a smallholder farmer is

The majority of our farmers are smallholders and their needs are like in other businesses . They need a secured environment to work in. They need security on the land which is a main productive assets, they need research and development for improve practices and techniques.

The access to market is often the problem of rural infrastructure, even if there are good roads and the rural areas are opened up to markets; they need access to the right kind of trainings.

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