11 February 2014

Africa commits to eliminate hunger by 2025: will priority be given to a sustainable family agriculture?

African leaders gathered at the XXIInd African Union Summit at Addis Ababa end January, have adopted a motion aiming at ending hunger on the continent by 2025. This worthy commitment can only be widely supported and confirms the pledge made during the FAO Council in December 2012. The motion however does not specify what African leaders will be doing concretely to achieve this ambitious objective.

Three documents give indications on what various views on what needs to be done.

The concept note for the ‘‘2014, Year of Agriculture and Food Security’’

The first of these documents is the concept note for ‘‘2014, Year of Agriculture and Food Security’’ published at the Addis Ababa Summit and entitled “Transforming Africa’s Agriculture for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods, through Harnessing Opportunities for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development”. An analysis of the content of this note, including of the points it avoids, shows that, as the Addis Ababa Summit was set to start, there was no common strategy agreed by all AU members on how to end hunger in Africa. This suggests that the choice had not been made between two main approaches:

  1. One that relies essentially on the promotion of family farming

  2. And one that relies on private operators and seeks to mobilise investments by multinationals - possibly in the shape of joint ventures or public-private partnerships - , banks or foreign investment funds.

The numerous consultations and exchanges of experience that will be organised in 2014 in Africa may help to clarify the strategy African leaders intend to use and the measures they will implement to reach their goals [read our analysis of this concept note]

The Africa Progress Panel

Meanwhile, as the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition takes center stage by promising Africa billions of dollars of investment by multinationals and foreign private investors in the six countries where it is launching its activities (Burkina Faso, Côte D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Tanzania), a second document makes recommendations that are in contrast with those of the Alliance by indicating that while foreign capital is indispensable for developing modern agricultural value chains on the continent, priority should go to African smallholders. This view is that of the Africa Progress Panel, chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian national, who is also one of the inspirors of the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA - Growing Africa’s Future). This Panel intends to advocate at the highest levels for equitable and sustainable development in Africa. In the field of agriculture and food security, the Panel aims at ‘‘helping Africa’s smallholder farmers exploit opportunities and manage risks’’.

In a document of septembre 2012 entitled ‘‘Africa Needs a Green Revolution’’, the Panel explains in details what they propose and immediately puts forward what is critical in their view: ‘‘raising the productivity of smallholder farmers’’. The document emphasises the opportunity for Africa and the Africans that represent tensions existing on world food markets. It also acknowledges the risks these tensions carry for the continent’s natural resources and underlines that Africa will be one of the regions most affected by climate change. According to the Panel, obstacles to the increase of smallholder productivity are basically: insufficient development of irrigation, particularly when comparing Africa to Asia, and the lack of improved seeds, new technologies, fertiliser and pesticides. They lament the neglect in which governments have left smallholders and the priority they have given to the development of large farms that are unlikely to generate much employment and reduce poverty.

To help smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change, the Panel suggests actions such as support for small-scale irrigation, terracing, rural roads and research. They also stress the need to implement social protection programmes to shield poor households from shocks. Finally they express concern about land grabbing from which rural communities must be protected. The Panel intends to find during 2014 solutions for injecting capital in African agriculture and facilitate access to financial resources by rural communities and protect smallholders from predatory investors. [read]

In a nutshell, this second document gives the view of those who want to integrate hundreds of millions of African smallholder  farmers in the world agrofood system by making them consumers of fertiliser, pesticide, improved seeds and smallscale irrigation equipement, and changing them into suppliers of agro-processing industries. It is clear that their objective is to orchestrate the green revolution in Africa (something that many tried to do during the last three decades, without much success) and to better integrate African farmers in the world agrifood system by changing them into clients and suppliers of large agrifood companies. Nothing new, if not that the Panel is clearly opposed to land grabbing.

The NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency and the African Union Commission

Earlier this year, the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency and the African Union Commission published, under the direction of Ibrahim Assan Mayaki, a report entitled ‘‘Agriculture in Africa - Transformation and Outlook’’ that presents a third perspective. Starting from the idea that natural resources should allow Africa ‘‘not only to feed itself and eliminate hunger and food insecurity, but also to be a major player in global food markets’’, the report commends the efforts made since 2003 in harnessing energies towards the development of African agriculture through the implementation of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) ‘‘by increasing investment in agriculture, fostering entrepreneurship and investment in agribusinesses and agrifood value chains, improving national and regional agricultural markets, fostering Africa’s collective food security and improving the management of natural resources’’.

Adopting a definitely positive perspective, the report stresses the strong growth trend followed by African agriculture during the last thirty years, despite the neglect in which it had been left by both governments and development partners. For the authors, in the future, the first thing will be to provide smallholder farmers with a predictable and more secure environment that will induce them to adopt more productive technology packages. This environment is defined as one that ‘‘entails securing land access and tenure, more stable and predictable prices, and insurance and safety nets for farmers’’ particularly for the poorer among them. Agreeing to agricultural development being a necessary but not sufficient condition for reducing food insecurity, the report admits that ‘‘industrial agriculture, besides the issues it raises in terms of efficiency in the use of re-sources, clearly creates fewer jobs than modern family farming’’, although both will have to coexist in Africa in the future. The report is also clearly against large scale land acquisitions that seek to establish large industrial plantations, although it agrees on the importance of attracting foreign investment in African agrifood value chains. But the main point on which this report deviates from the other two is when it shows a clearly different point of view on technology and proposes promoting ‘‘the controlled use of inputs and agro-environmental techniques to manage soil fertility levels’’ and ‘‘the systematic preference for sustainable agricultural systems from a socio-economic perspective (use of labour) and also from an environmental perspective (limited use of high-carbon inputs, the promotion of agro-ecology and agroforestry)’’.

Two ideas appear distinctly that give an original tint to the document: (i) limiting foreign investments mainly to the downstream part of agricultural value chains, and (ii) opting for productive technology packages based on a controlled use of fertilisers, pesticide products and improved seeds, and that use techniques such as organic manuring, techniques to combat erosion by rain and wind, etc.. This orientation is clearly welcome as it is more favourable to African smallhoder farmers by protecting them more against the greed of investors - whether foreign or national - and offering them technical solutions that are better adapted to their resources (labour, but no cash to buy expensive inputs).

The report continues by suggesting that the link between production and consumption should be ensured by ‘‘efficient and equitable value chains’’ in which ‘‘interprofessional approaches’’ should be promoted and that should produce a diversity of ‘‘high quality processed products [...] more standardised products in terms of taste, shelf-life and, increasingly compliance with health and environmental standards’’. Producers will ‘‘need to organise themselves collectively [...] to defend their interests when competing with other operators’’. For agriculture to develop, it will need to be protected at least for some time to ensure that ‘‘integrating global markets depends on a gradual approach based on an “infant industry” strategy for Africa’s agricultural sector’’.

The report concludes that ‘’to improve the African food security strategy so that it becomes a food sovereignty and regional preference strategy...[there will be a need for]... more flexibility in regional tariff policy, concentrating research efforts on local products, regulations on the use and protection of genetic resources on the one hand and the defense of the interests of agricultural producers on the other’’.

A rapid comparison of the recommendations of this third document with the seven principles for ending hunger proposed by shows considerable convergence, particularly on the following principles:

  1. First principle: Organising producers

  2. Second principle: Social protection

  3. Fourth principle: Accessible and sustainable technology packages

  4. Fifth principle: Protection of agriculture

  5. Sixth principle: Recognition and respect of rights

The NEPAD Agency and the AU will now have to put in practice what this document proposes. This is a major challenge that will require harnessing all energies and overcoming many obstacles: the content of the recent deal struck between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the EU, and which contradicts the fifth principle, is an illustration of these difficulties.

But this will be the price to pay for a sustainable development of African agriculture and the eradication of hunger on the continent.


For more details:

  1. -NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency and the African Union Commission, Agriculture in Africa - Transformation and Outlook, 2014

  2. -African Union, Transforming Africa’s Agriculture for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods, through Harnessing Opportunities for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development, concept note for the ‘‘2014, Year of Agriculture and Food Security’’, 2014

  3. -Africa Progress Panel, ‘‘Africa Needs a Green Revolution 2012


Do not forget to sign the petition: Hunger, crime against humanity


Last update:    February 2014

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