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20 - 27 December 2006 
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From the Frying PAN to Food Security!

Agriculture is not only key to rural and urban food security and African households’ livelihoods, but is also a major contributor to the export economy and thus to foreign exchange earnings. It is the most important source of employment in most countries of the region.


However, “unless present food trends are reversed, Africa will experience an overall annual food shortfall of 250m tons by 2020,” warns Dr. Cyril Enweze of IFAD.


Speaking in a recently concluded food summit in Abuja, Nigeria, the expert revealed that “of the 36 hunger spots in the world identified by FAO, 23 are in Africa. With Africa’s population growing by 3 percent per annum, agricultural production has in most areas been declining.”


Why is Africa sheaveless when other regions of the world ‘come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves’? Dr. Prassana Srinivasan of India reports that since 1961, agricultural output had outstripped global population growth by 20 percent, with a proportionate increase in per capita availability of food.  There has been a decrease in prices of agricultural produce consequently making food cheap, people better fed and fewer people suffering starvation and malnutrition, hence reduced infant mortality.


Why is Africa wallowing in the old hymn “while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by’? While globally, there is increase in agricultural output in excess of 60-70 percent for key food crops; Africa is being bypassed, with 27 per cent of its population undernourished. Why is Africa being bypassed? Dr. Enweze’s warning appropriately applies here. Present food trends must be reversed.


“No calling is more noble, and no responsibility greater than that of enabling men, women and children in cities and villages around the world, to make their lives better. Only when that begins to happen will we know that globalization is indeed becoming inclusive, allowing everyone to share its opportunities,” says outgoing UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan in We the People: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century Action Plan.


Instead of Africa addressing its consumption problem, it has imposed an average tariff of 33.6 per cent on agricultural products within the continent while lowering tariffs for Europe (12.7 per cent) and Asia (19 per cent). In addition, agricultural products incur high marketing costs. A World Bank study a decade ago indicated that it would cost $50 to ship one metric ton of corn from Iowa USA to Mombasa  (8,500miles away), but $100 to move the same amount of corn from Mombasa to Kampala, only 550 miles away. These barriers ought to be abolished and get African’s producing without hindrance. It should be recalled that while Niger was experiencing dire famine, neighboring countries had food, which developed nations would buy and take to Niger as relief food. Why are we exporting our problems to the UN?


When President Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya retired from office, the military awarded him a tractor, wheelbarrow and spades- to go and farm. On most African farms, we have two groups of people: the retirees and uneducated. The motivation to be creative is lacking because there are no expectations. This mindset should change. We need a situation where university graduates are among the 70% of the farmers.


Today, many agricultural businesses manufacture their products without small-scale farmers in mind. The farmers thus cannot access products that would make their crops healthy. If a farmer is motivated, he will not depend on remittances from his sons in the cities. He will ask for advice instead. Where is this motivation when a farmer is charged Kshs, 12,900 for irrigation water analysis and Ksh. 30,000 for environmental water analysis?


The increase in agricultural output in the world is attributable to improved agricultural technologies. A case study carried out by Inter Region Economic Network (IREN) in Eastern Kenya revealed that farmers spend a lot of money to hire labour during weeding. Sometimes children have to miss school to carry out this exercise. Women, to add on their chores of fetching water 20 kilometers away, have to participate in this backbreaking exercise. When people are hired, it is African to provide them with food while on the farm, increasing the family expenses.


Improved technology is their saviour. With use of herbicides such as Paraquat, manual weeding will be replaced. Soil erosion will be curbed, children will go to school. There will be reduced expenses on labour and food. Women will be freed to engage in other productive activities.


“But what do African babysitting experts such as the Pesticide Action Network(PAN) do? They are on the frontline fighting the use of pesticides and herbicides,” says James Shikwati, Director of Inter Region Economic Network (IREN).


Africa missed out on the first “Green Revolution.” The continent can hardly afford to miss out on the current revolution. Africa has the potential to feed itself but as Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug puts it, “you cannot eat potential!” Africa should jump out of the frying PAN into food sufficiency!

By Josephat Juma
Mr. Juma is an African Executive Writer

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