Lindiwe Sibanda of FANRPAN and the Farming First initiative
From food aid to farm support: transforming agricultural policy in Africa
Lindiwe Majele Sibanda is CEO of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and leading spokesperson for the Farming First initiative. She calls for action to transform agricultural policy in Africa to allow Africa's farmers to sustain themselves.
During the 2008 food crisis, it became clear that global governance systems on food security were unable to protect those most at risk. Embargoes on exports by certain countries led to food shortages elsewhere, particularly in Africa, alarming politicians with the prospect of a hungry electorate. Millions of farmers in Africa depend on what they produce day to day to survive. But to protect them from food insecurity and the need for food aid, we have to transform global agricultural policy from a system of food aid to farmer empowerment.
Fortunately the time is right. After a generation of neglecting agriculture, world leaders are realising that further food crises can only be averted if more and better investments are made in agriculture and farming in the developing world. But the challenge is: what should be the priorities for that investment?
A time to invest
Farming First calls on world leaders to apply its six interlinked principles in policy and practice:
1. Safeguard natural resources
2. Share knowledge
3. Build local access
4. Protect harvests
5. Enable access to markets
6. Prioritise research
For Africa, which is predominantly dependent on smallholder farming, the first priority must be for our farmers to be food secure. By integrating and applying the basic Farming First* principles (see box), we can be sure that people will be able to produce enough to feed themselves. The current investments in agriculture, in sustainable production and safeguarding our natural resources, prior to the forthcoming post-Kyoto global climate change policy negotiations, could not have happened at a better time. There is the promise of money now - but it must be used wisely.
However, the solution for Africa must come from Africans having a clear plan for themselves. In 2003, we put in place the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Plan (CAADP), which is part of the African Union's New Economic Partnership for African Development - NEPAD. The CAADP plan is built around four main pillars: sustainable use of natural resources; market access; food security; and improved agricultural research and adoption of technologies. As part of this commitment, African governments are being encouraged to put at least ten per cent of their national budget into agriculture in order to get the growth in the sector we so badly need.
At the African Union (AU) summit in Libya, which for the first time is to focus on agriculture and has the theme 'Investing in agriculture for economic growth and food security', we will be reviewing the progress of CAADP. At the same time, we will be presenting a number of success stories from African countries that have already begun to prioritise the development of agricultural production and markets.
Making agriculture a priority
Malawi, for example, is a good case study of how governments can benefit from increased investments in agriculture, and a commitment to raising agricultural productivity. The impact is already evident in a fourth successive year of bumper maize yields. As a result, over the past five years, Malawi has transformed itself from relying on food aid for feeding five out of its 12 million citizens, who were food insecure, to becoming self-sufficient and even exporting maize to neighbouring countries. The Farm Input Subsidy Programme is to be reviewed by donors, but I believe this clearly demonstrates what can be achieved when countries focus on agriculture and put farming principles first.
But improving productivity is only half the story. If increased yields are achieved but no thought is given to protecting the harvest and improving market access, then we still have the problem of post-harvest spoilage and loss of income for farmers. So at FANRPAN (Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network) we are working with governments in the region to draw up and implement policies, which safeguard our natural resources, prioritise research and technology, protect our harvests and improve market access.
Involving farmers, building partnerships
These Farming First principles are not 'rocket science', but together they represent a framework which can be continually improved. We are looking at fundamentals but there is now a realisation that unless you talk to farmers, unless you bring the farming community into the dialogue for policy processes, nothing will happen.
At the forthcoming AU summit, it is essential that we can report on the successful work we have done in the last five years to build more partnerships. These partnerships have helped give civil society organisations such as FANRPAN better access to represent our member countries and the voice of our farmers at events like the AU summit, rather than leaving it to just governments alone. So we will be preparing for the summit by making sure that we have the right evidence to share with policymakers.
African governments are becoming more and more open and willing to sit with the private sector, with farmers, and with the research community, to generate evidence that will inform policy processes. The results will not be immediate but building a framework from which we can continue to grow is the first step, and the next two or three years should continue to reveal more progress on the issue of sustainable agriculture.
*The Farming First plan was developed as a joint call to action to respond to the global challenges posed during the current round of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-17). It is supported by the International Council for Science (ICSU), International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP), International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA), and CropLife International.
Date published: July 2009
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