The Star (Nairobi)

Africa: Smallholder Farmers Africa's Game Changer

Africa's Ministers of Agriculture are meeting in Addis Ababa this week to debate the policies that will shape an agricultural market projected to be worth USD 1 trillion by 2030, three times its size in 2010. We may argue that number up or down, but one thing is certain: we should never underestimate Africa's entrepreneurial drive or the potential of our millions of smallholder farmers to feed Africa and the world. Africa's smallholder farmers can be agriculture's game changer.

Eighty percent of the food we eat in Africa is produced by smallholder farmers--people who tend crops and raise livestock on less than a hectare of land--and most of them are women. Right now their production is far below their potential. But when Africa's farmers have what farmers elsewhere in the world take for granted, they will rapidly catch up. That means empowering them with access to finance, agricultural technologies and markets, and through secure rights to their land, effective extension services and supportive policies.

Initiatives that enable African farmers to adapt to growing conditions rapidly being altered by climate change are also critical. And we can further fuel Africa's agricultural development by confronting the gender gap in agriculture and overcoming obstacles that limit the productivity of women farmers relative to men.

By putting these basic principles into practice, and forging strategic, well-considered partnerships, our smallholder farms can succeed as businesses connected to thriving local, regional and global markets. Their progress will infuse new energy into the global economy and our rural economies can thrive. When Africa's smallholder farmers prosper, the world will prosper.

The alternative is grim. The reality is that in Africa today, half of our population lives in extreme poverty, and more than 60 percent of the population is in remote rural areas--and this will not change any time soon. Furthermore, between 2012 and 2050, the population of most of sub-Saharan Africa will more than double, putting it at 11.3 times its 1950 level. What will give all Africans the opportunity to have healthy diets, earn income, and live dignified lives in 2015 and 2050?

The best option lies with accelerating a sustainable green revolution on Africa's smallholder farms. We need to help Africa's smallholders harness science on their farms to sustainably increase their productivity and improve their lives. This can and should be done in concert with agricultural enterprises of all sizes, including large agribusiness. But it must be done by putting the smallholder first.

When the Ministers of Agriculture meet, they will have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to Africa's smallholders, and to accelerate progress under CAADP, the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program. Launched ten years ago by the African Union, and approved by African governments, CAADP calls on those same governments to commit at least 10 percent of their annual national budgets to agriculture, and to achieve 6 percent annual agricultural growth by 2015.

With 2015 less than one year away, it is time to renew those commitments if we want to transform African agriculture into a sustainable source of wealth, nutrition and health for the rural poor.

Over the past decade, CAADP has helped raise global awareness that agriculture is central to Africa's development. During this time, international partners have reversed the precipitous decline in Official Development Assistance for agriculture, committing tens of billions of dollars to growing African agriculture. A few countries, such as Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Rwanda, have made tremendous progress in their agriculture sectors, providing lessons and inspiration for others. It is no coincidence that these countries have also seen huge decreases in their poverty rates: Ethiopia by 49 percent; Ghana by 44 percent; and Burkina Faso by 37 percent.

This year is being celebrated by the African Union as the Year of Agriculture and Food Security. The best way to celebrate is to make good on our commitments and to achieve our goals. There are many allies in this quest. Working with the African Union and other partners, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is engaged in a range of public-private partnerships that offer practical solutions to the challenge of creating a sustainable path to a food-secure future in Africa.

We have arrived at a critical juncture where all involved need to step up their commitments, forge new alliances, and rally behind Africa's smallholder farmers. By empowering them, we can change the rules of the game and initiate a decade of unprecedented agricultural transformation.

Jane Karuku is President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

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