The Reporter (Addis Ababa)

Ethiopia: Investing in Agriculture - the Solution to Ending Hunger

Since its establishment in 1975, the International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI)

has conducted a lot of research and studies that promote campaigns aiming at ending hunger across the globe. The institute began its operations as a District of Colombia non-profit, non- stock cooperation on March 5, 1975 working on the areas of adopting innovations in agricultural technologies.

Present in several developing countries, mainly China, Ethiopia, and India, the IFPRI strives to see a hunger and under nutrition free world in 2025. IFPRI's General Director, Shenggen Fan elaborates on the organization's success and setbacks as it applies mechanisms in which countries are determined to act aggressively. Henok Reta of The Reporter caught up with him for an exclusive interview as he launched the 2013 IFPRI report in Addis Ababa. Excerpts:

The Reporter: Can you tell us a few things about the report?

Shenggen Fan: Well, no spike in food price according to our partners' data and it appears to be more stable when compared with the previous three years. And the reason is that many countries are believed to have been actively engaged in increasing productivity.

The Global Food Policy report is the third volume after 2011 and 2012 and it focuses on nutrition. Nutrition has two major components, one is having enough to eat and the other is quality--macronutrients. More than two billion people are suffering from lack of macronutrients. We need to invest more in cutting down malnutrition and under nutrition.

And for that there are at least two major reasons, one is nourishing which helps people not to die of hungry, and the second is an economic reason that requires much investment in agriculture. This report is different from the previous two reports, which focused on food price on the aftermath of the food price crisis that happened in 2008/09.

So, we were very much focused on why that happened, what were the consequences, and proposed certain policy options to calm down the crisis. The second issue focused on making sure that the donors, the governments and other stakeholders are accountable to certain actions they have committed to undertake.

For example, many donors committed to invest billions of dollars in food and agriculture. Governments like Nigeria, Ethiopia and Ghana committed ten percent of their national budget to support the growth of agriculture. Have they done that? How far away are they from the target? The 2013 report is very much focused on nutrition and under nutrition.

What does Ethiopia's performance look like?

Ethiopia and some African countries are in good shape to achieve their goals set up together with us. Bangladesh and Ethiopia are training staff and developing new programs for extension. Moreover, pledging its ten percent annual budget for agriculture is a more fascinating one, despite some shortcomings related to research and investment revealed in the sector.

So, how satisfied are you on that?

Well, probably ten years back, the countries, particularly African countries had a very different situation. Reduced number of conflicts and commitment to tackle challenges has brought these promising beginnings.

They are ready to change the situations too. In the future, all these positive things will lead countries to a much better situation. Our institute is ready to work with African governments and the people to share experiences that we have learnt from other places and to support their agenda, program and investment of economic reformation.

Still, despite the fact that some African countries including Ethiopia are working to realize their ambitious economic transformations, people still face food insecurity and under nutrition. How do you see that?

Yes the fundamental factors behind the food crisis in 2007 and 2008 are still there. For example, climate changes, droughts, floods and conflicts and the use of food for bio-fuel production are some of the challenges.

Today food price is stable; however, we should not be complacent. Another food crisis could be triggered. We need to cooperate and governments should continue to invest more in agriculture, paying maximum attention to massive engagement in agriculture along with their agenda and program. Of the several things we need to do, one is that donors and private sectors should continue investing more in food and nutrition.

The other thing is making sure that poor people and hungry people have access to food. If we can't realize that their physical and mental capability will be compromised. Short-term relief is vital to attain long-term growth.

The third thing is to be able to use the market to help the countries and enable them to enjoy their competitive advantages. This is because different countries have different resources, so they can share with each other. And we should also make sure there is agricultural development.

Nutrition is another big subject here in the report. So what means can be employed to help Africa, a continent that has the least food supply and a bad case of malnutrition?

Agriculture is not only producing food but also having improved nutrition. We work with African countries in different ways. We try to make people better aware of what nutrition is. From production to nutrition we need to analyze the essence of food.

Agriculture plays a key role in nutrition as it plays a major role in food supply. Education, in this regard, is critical since it helps people to know how they can live better. In the meantime certain policies that will encourage farmers to produce better food should be designed.

The three burdens of hunger are having insufficient food to eat, lack of macronutrients and overconsumption. Perhaps because Africa is not developed it might not experience side effects of the over fried foods. This is more common in the developed world and the most significant part of the triple burden of food. But it will never be far away from Africa as well.

What is Africa's impact on the global food production and crisis?

I think Africa is catching up. Asia made tremendous progress in the 1970's and 80's through what we call "The Green Revolution." It's coming to Africa now, but it should not repeat the mistakes made then by Asian countries. Africa should focus on more nutritious and healthy foods.

No more corn, rice and wheat rather we need more balanced diets. Sweet potato, cassava, fruits and vegetables and some meat along with dairy products should take the lead. The second is environment. Asians did depletion of underground water, which led to degradation.

Ironically, a few African countries are selling out their vast lands for foreign investors. How can these countries sustain their food production while a call for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is echoing out there for investors who might take what they produce away?

To have foreign direct investment there should be a clear land. Farmers have to have this basic right to negotiate with investors. If any foreign investment is coming to benefit a country, it should be the farmers who should benefit from it.

It is critical that farmers should not be displaced or left unproductive in any case. Indeed the World Bank, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) have developed the guidelines in this regard, and I hope the Ethiopian government and the African Union will adopt that. It must include the smallholder farmers and always be based on a win-win agreement. But still there are some foreign investors who produce here and take it away?

I don't know why? Sometimes these types of reports are exaggerated and lack clarity. And there should be hard evidence on that to react. Maybe the media should play a constructive role in that regard.

In spite of all the successes that some African countries have accomplished by complying with the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP)'s proposal of how 10 percent of the budget should go to agriculture, there are still countries that fail to do so. What is your take on that?

First of all I have to say there is major progress. In 2003 it was three percent and now it is about six, except for a few countries like Ethiopia and Nigeria who allocate 10 percent. So it's a huge progress. We need to encourage it and stay optimistic.

In many African countries, though farmers are productive, the skyrocketing cost of living and unstable inflation is becoming unbearable for the people. Why is that?

First, farmers should be developed. They have to stay there until they find a job in cities. High inflow of people in the city creates quite dire hunger and inequitable resource share amongst citizen. I think urbanization is surpassing industrialization in some countries. That is the crux of the problem.

They must go parallel. Unemployment is hugely affecting life in the city and that is dangerous for governments. The best way to solve this problem is to invest more in agriculture. When there is more investment the farmers are motivated to do their job. People even go back to such remote areas in search of employment so that consumers will have much better access to enjoy the market with fair prices.

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