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Botswana: Africa: Can Africa Satisfy Its Hunger?

2013/04/02

Africa frequently experiences food shortages, although its 900 million farmers could feed the continent, inclunding supplying other parts of the world. But for this to happen they need the support of politicians.

The good news prime: African governments, donors and the United Nations have rediscovered Africa's agricultural sector. For almost two decades they concentrated on urban industrialization. Agriculture was insignificant.

Politicians only woke up following fluctuations on raw materials markets, coupled with a severe food crisis that began in 2008 and subsequent famine-driven rebellions. As a result the German Development Aid Ministry drew up strategy papers outlining a development policy that put the spotlight on agriculture.

In Africa some 900 million people, that's 90 % of the total people, work in the agricultural sector. It may not be a perfect comparison but who in Germany would come up with the absurd idea of halting the activities of small and medium-scale handicraft businesses, which guarantee millions of jobs and are a major factor in the country's economy?

What can Africa's agricultural sector achieve?

Agriculture means life. Each year one in eight people of the world's people doesn't have enough to eat, most of those going hungry live in South Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa. These figures are alarming.

In its multimedia appropriate "Can Africa satisfy its hunger?" DW looks at the opportunities of African agriculture and the challenges it faces. Can Africa feed itself, and again at some point someday even provide food for a rapidly growing world?

Additional specifically, can Africa in the medium-term feed itself and again become a food exporter? Our research in East and West Africa and in chemical laboratories in Germany suggests this is possible if local politicians and foreign donors work together.

No incentives for investment

But here comes the bad news. In a lot of African nations, commitment to farming is no additional than lip-service. Conditions are lacking for farmers which would make it possible for them not only to fulfil their own needs but as well to produce a surplus. Take Ethiopia for example -nearly 85 % of the country's some 90 million people live from the land. But Ethiopia's authoritarian government, in a show of Marxist nostalgia, still bans private land ownership

Leasing land Even land leases are uncertain.

There is little incentive for farmers to invest in small plots of land to act as erosion protection. Instead they use expensive packets of seeds along with pesticides and herbicides, which in turn leach into the soil, trapping them in a vicious cycle of poverty at the same time as harvests are lost and debts increase.

Commerical African banks do not give loans to farmers.

They cannot simply replace old wooden ploughs with modern equipment that would in-turn increase gain manyfold. Even in the 21st Century a lot of farmers are denied adequate access to markets, roads to the nearest marketplace are impassable in the rainy season. Studies show that up to 50-% of African farmers fresh produce rots on the way to market - an unacceptable figure. And so the inventory goes on.

Industrialization in Africa, not possible without agriculture

It won't take much to increase the productivity of farmers and in turn crop yields, says the DW statement. Drip irrigation, crop rotation, seed finishing and organic cultivation are just keywords.

In an attempt to avoid any misunderstandings, it's not about playing industrialization off against agriculture. But rather, one cannot exist without the other. Clods and chimneys, soil and construction.

Industrialization in Africa must be vigorously promoted to ensure Ivorian cocoa beans are processed in Abidjan rather than Hamburg. At the same time African nations and their donors must meet to acknowledge on a partnership for Africa's food productivity.

The chances for such are good. Next the uprising in Tunisia in 2011, that prime ousted politicians again swept the winds of change across North Africa and the Arab world, Africa's decision makers have been warned. Hunger has become a political tool of the masses. Europe's politician's have seen what desperation in Lampedusa and Malta's refugee camps can trigger. The time has come for a new transaction for African agriculture.

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