"There is something that we are not doing properly, that is why we keep on falling short of feeding the whole Africa," mutters Dr. Kodjo P. Abassa, trying to get comfy on his chair. Dr. Abassa, former Adviser at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, has worked for more than 25 years in the field of sustainable agriculture and biotechnology. "Actually, Ethiopia alone can feed the whole Africa," he declared. He stated that Ethiopia possesses the largest livestock population in Africa and the third in the world, yet the country is not benefiting enough from this tremendous resource due to several reasons.
Off late, African Conference on Sustainable Communities (ACOSC) was channeled by Dr. Abassa and his colleagues with the aim of exchanging ideas on new trends and technology assisted agriculture to eventually transform the sector to ultimately ensure sustainable farming.
"We would like to employ a strategy of 'one village at a time'. For a reason that agriculture requires the collective action of all actors which actually are equally important, the deployment of an integrated approach is very important.
So, first we study the profile of a village to identify the prevailing potential as well as the problem. We will identify the technology they own and the technology they need. If we want to fundamentally change the way agriculture is being practiced, it is necessary to launch a sustainable programme that is owned by the farmer and the community," he added.
He further pointed out that it is very important to learn from other countries specially when it comes to agriculture. According to him, diligence is very important since it is the secret of the success of many countries in the sector.
If agriculture doesn't perform well in a given country, citizens don't eat well, where as with about 70 pe rcent of African population living in the rural area, the agricultural sector is crucial to the continent as portrayed by participants in the conference. It is clearly explained that agriculture is the main economic activity and if it fails everything else is very likely to fail. Hence, adapting agricultural technologies and considering the various notions of stakeholders in the issue can be considered to be pivotal to bring real changes in the sector.
Accordingly, there is a "3S" Strategic Framework that are considered to be used in bringing change in the sector as discussed on the conference. The first is strengthening the body. A poor village where the majority of men, women, and children are in poor physical health caused by hunger, disease, lack of shelter, unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and fuel shortage.
This part of the strategy aims to help villagers restore their physical health, giving them strong bodies so they can do the work of building a strong community. This effort includes, providing food and nutritional supplements as needed, helping all villagers to secure adequate shelter and clothing, bringing health services including vaccines and medicine to the village, assisting villagers in laying the groundwork for health, promoting sanitation practices.
The other is strengthening the mind. History has demonstrated that a nation's fate hinges heavily upon the mentality of its people. With a view that the mentality of the rural poor is a critically important factor to be considered in the poverty and hunger debates. Indeed, poverty can perpetuate itself over time by creating a mindset that is fed with self-convincing beliefs about self and the world and that limits perceptions, choices, motivations and behaviors.
This part of the strategy aspires to create a mindset that prevents these people from escaping their impoverished conditions and that leads them to the belief that they are born poor, will eventually remain poor all their lives and will die poor. The strategy eventually fights the self-defeating mindset among rural communities.
With the view that people are the most important resources in any development intervention and that there is no any reason why a rural community should rely eternally on aid rather than on its people to meet its basic needs. Hence, the foundation believes that African villagers, if empowered, will be capable to move successfully the agenda of their own sustainable development and will do more than just satisfying their basic needs.
The last one, according to the discussion, is strengthening the community which means, engaging the rural communities in the formulation and implementation of long-term integrated agricultural and rural transformation programmes tailored to the specific needs of each community, ending the chronic and recurrent inability of the village community to meet its basic need. Here comes the full measure of effecting a sustainable modernization of Agriculture and rural transformation for the betterment of the livelihood of the rural communities and becoming a model and a partner for hunger and poverty reduction.
A model presented in the conference from Kenya depicted how primary school students who continuously dropout from school due to food shortage in their village were able to curb their problems to finally stay in school. The students themselves were thought how to engage in productive agriculture and livestock production to be self sufficient in food security.
Dr. Abassa and other colleagues aim to do this through their foundation based in New York and other partners in the sector focusing on the most vulnerable communities in Africa. For instance, in Ethiopia most vulnerable villages from all states would be targeted and the programmes will be implemented along with agricultural extension professionals and local governing bodies in agricultural and pastoral sectors.
"Addis Ababa is the home to the African Union so we want to make our home here and operate all over Africa," Dr. Nelson Sechere, Regional Director for Africa, told to The Ethiopian Herald.
Since agriculture cannot be isolated from rural development, it is imperative to adopt the principles of 'sustainable agriculture and rural development (SARD)' if agricultural sector is to be developed.
Tailored to the specific needs of each community, SARD projects address needs in infrastructure, water and sanitation, health, food and nutrition, shelter, energy and education, explains Sechere. They also meet the basic nutritional requirements of present and future generations while producing surplus crops to process locally as a source of revenue.
Furthermore, Sechere added that SARD projects sustain local workers with sufficient income and decent living and working conditions for all those engaged in agricultural production. Projects also maintain natural resources while minimizing harm to the environment. Most importantly, SARD projects strengthen national agricultural sectors while building villagers' self-reliance, diligence, and cooperation by harnessing the already available potential in the communities.