1 September 2014

Africa: 'Not a Conference, a Conversation'

Addis Ababa — Agriculture. Food security. Small-scale farmers. Agriculture research. Did your eyes glaze over? Thought so. The agriculture sector still struggles to shake the perception of being dull and tedious, which poses a key challenge when seeking to address food security on the continent. With a relatively youthful population, African governments, civil society and farmers need to ensure that young people begin to consider food production as a viable alternative.

Enter the Alliance for a Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) which gathers "serious players in the agriculture sector", according to the Convener of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa's (AGRA) Irungu Houghton. Taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 1-4 September 2014, the fourth forum coincides with the tenth anniversary of Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme which is a "pan-African framework for agricultural development developed in 2003", according to Houghton. Under this framework African goverments committed to increasing their expenditure in the agri-sector to 10 percent and growing the sector by 6% per annum. To date few countries have met this target, which led to Malabo Declaration earlier this year where African leaders recommitted to supporting agriculture in order to ensure food security, create jobs and ensure development.

The theme for the AGRF 2014 is: Beyond the Tipping Point: A new vision and strategies for inclusive and sustainable transformation. Included under this theme is a session that looks at the inclusion of women - not merely as labourers - but as participants with access to finance.

AGRA has in the past received criticism for its association with large-scale agribusiness which critics believe may lead to pushing genetically modified crops.

"The unique thing about the AGRF is that it's not a conference, it's a platform for platforms. People often think that agriculture is boring but when you come to the AGRF and you see the level of innovation, the ideas that are coming out, the level of excitement that people have, you realise that agriculture is not a boring subject but that it has so many issues that are waiting to be unpacked," says AGRA's Communications and Public Affairs Director Sylvia Mwichuli.

The challenges facing agriculture such as underinvestment and how to increase productivity are not new, says Houghton. "They are old concerns but we need new strategies to deal with these challenges."

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