Rome/Malabo 26 June 2014 - The President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) spoke today at the African Union Summit to reinforce his message about the immediate need for investment in the continent's small farms. These farms make up 80 per cent of all farms in sub-Saharan Africa.
IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze was invited to speak on the panel discussion as a part of the 23rd AU Summit, which began today in Malabo, the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. The panel discussion, which was attended by heads of state from across Africa, focused the on designated AU Year of Agriculture and Food Security.
"We have no excuse," Nwanze said prior to leaving for Malabo. "Africa has the largest share of uncultivated land with rain-fed crop potential. Many African nations are becoming economic powerhouses, but without a viable agricultural sector and strong rural economy, I do not see a viable future for Africa."
Not only is agriculture a well-documented engine for economic growth and poverty reduction in developing nations, but also there is evidence that growth derived from staple crop production has a higher impact on poverty reduction than growth from export crops such as coffee, tea and tobacco, Nwanze said.
The AU Summit marks 10 years from the signing of the Maputo Declaration in Mozambique, where countries promised to allocate 10 per cent or more of their national budgets for agriculture. So far, only seven have done so consistently.
"Certainly, there is no shortage of demand," Nwanze said, calling on leaders to invest in agriculture. "Today, Africa imports US$35 billion worth of food every year. This is food that can be and should be grown in Africa by Africans. This is money that should be flowing in to support African businesses, not out."
Earlier this week in an open letter to AU heads of state published in media outlets across Africa and elsewhere, Nwanze pointed out that the only way to build a resilient food and nutrition-secure future is to invest in the continent's rural people.
"A full 60 per cent of our people depend wholly or partly on agriculture for their livelihoods, and the vast majority of them live below the poverty line," Nwanze wrote in the open letter. "It's not pity and handouts that they need. It's access to markets and finance, land tenure security, knowledge and technology, and policies that favour small farms and make it easier for them to do business."
In the letter he wrote that this is a crucial time for Africa to accelerate progress on food security; 2014 marks the International Year of Family Farming and also has focused world attention on the definition of future goals and targets after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015.
Today in Malabo, Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, opened the panel discussion on ways to boost farm productivity and improve livelihoods amid increasingly difficult economic and environmental challenges. Other panellists were the President of the African Development Bank, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Director-General of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.
The message Nwanze took with him to Malabo is that a rural transformation can happen if leaders' keep their eyes on future goals rather than present gains. "Africa is home to some of the world's fastest growing economies," he said. "Life expectancy is improving, while child and maternal mortality rates are falling across the continent. But our pride must be tempered by reality. As we debate how to transform African agriculture, we must think not only of today but of the years to come."
As he pointed out in his open letter, there is hope. "We know the real Africa, filled with possibilities, dignity and opportunities, able to face its challenges and solve them from within. Never has the time been more right for us to finally realize our full potential. It is within our grasp."