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Global Food Crisis As An Opportunity To End Hunger In Africa

By seizing on the current crisis to address the long-term causes of food shortages in Africa and participating in partnerships to achieve the above goals, the G8 could help to make today's emergency tomorrow's triumph.

by Staff Writers
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Jul 10, 2008
The soaring cost of basic food commodities was the subject of intense discussions at this week's Group of Eight summit in Japan. The leaders of the world's wealthiest countries vowed to support not only immediate food aid, but also medium- and long-term solutions to the food crisis that is destabilizing many developing countries and driving millions more into hunger and poverty.

The crisis is particularly acute for Africa, where the current high prices and food shortages have served to highlight a long-lived "silent hunger" affecting 200 million people, from young to old, and including 33 million malnourished children. In Africa, the underlying cause of this hunger is the longstanding neglect of agriculture on national and international levels.

Now, the G8 has committed to working with African and international partners, from the Nairobi-based Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), to the African Union's Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), the CGIAR and United Nations agencies to end Africa's widespread poverty and hunger.

But if Africa is to see more results than promises, the G8 would do well to pay attention to solutions already being pursued in Africa. Farmers, governments, scientists, the private sector, civil society and donors are pursuing a series of initiatives designed to launch a uniquely African Green Revolution.

Prior to the current turmoil, Africans had set in motion programs that aim to rapidly increase the yield of smallholder farmers (now one-third the global average), protect the environment and biodiversity, create jobs and stimulate investment in rural areas.

Their goal is to achieve a uniquely African Green Revolution attuned to the continent's realities: its wide diversity of crops, environments and farming systems, and a scarcity of resources that leaves millions of smallholder farmers caught in a poverty trap.

In less than two years, AGRA alone has committed US$330 million in programs that address challenges across the agricultural value chain. Experience shows that attention to 10 key areas would do the most to turn food shortages into food surpluses:

- Reinvest in agricultural development. Aid dedicated to agricultural development has fallen dramatically in the last several decades. Concerted reinvestment - an estimated US$10 billion a year -- is needed from African and donor countries. Investment should focus on improving conditions for small-scale farmers-the majority women-who are the heart of African agriculture;

- Improve Africa's crop varieties to be higher yielding, more nutritious, and adapted to difficult and changing environments. Half a century ago, agricultural research boosted the yields of wheat, rice and maize in Asia and the West. The same is needed today for Africa's staple crops such as cassava, millet, sorghum, plantain, maize and rice. These new varieties, developed jointly by plant breeders and farmers, must then be widely distributed to smallholder farmers;

- Boost soil fertility; increase farmers' access to organic and mineral fertilizers. African farmers use one-tenth the global average of fertilizer. With the price of fertilizers skyrocketing, even this low level of use is falling. The result: more nutrients are being removed from the soil than replenished, making it a matter of time before farmland becomes wasteland;

- Alleviate water scarcity and inefficient water use through small-scale irrigation and other new technologies that make wise use of water. Over 90 percent of African farmers depend on rainfall for their crops and only 4 percent of lands have access to irrigation, compared to 37 percent in Asia;

- Build networks of rural farm supply retailers, called "agro-dealers," to provide even the most remote farmers with access to affordable seeds, fertilizers, and other farm inputs. Improve agricultural markets through better market information systems, storage, processing and commodity exchanges along with attention to stabilizing prices and improving farmers' access to credit;

- Put in place risk-mitigation policies such as weather-indexed crop insurance, which is particularly important given the impacts of climate change. The African farmer is the only farmer who takes all the risks herself: no capital, no insurance, no help from the government;

- When appropriate, promote "smart subsidies" that enable resource-poor farmers to access the seed and fertilizer they need to boost production. Without assistance, millions of farmers will remain unable to purchase basic farm inputs taken for granted by farmers around the world;

- Support government investment in public goods such as rural roads, irrigation, electricity, agricultural research and education;

- Support land tenure polices that secure the rights of smallholder farmers, especially women who often have limited rights to land ownership;

- Support global trade policies that level the playing field for African farmers. Subsidized agriculture in industrialized countries makes it impossible for African farmers to compete on the global market, or even on their home turf.

The intense focus in Africa today is on programs and policies that ultimately could transform the continent into a bread basket for the world. Africans have built a framework and made a political commitment to achieving an African Green Revolution.

Supportive national and international policies, and significant reinvestment in agriculture, are central to their success. By seizing on the current crisis to address the long-term causes of food shortages in Africa and participating in partnerships to achieve the above goals, the G8 could help to make today's emergency tomorrow's triumph.

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Rich nations pledge action on food, oil, but deadlock on climate
Toyako, Japan (AFP) July 9, 2008
Leaders of the world's top industrial powers ended a summit Wednesday with pledges to act on soaring oil and food prices, but failed to bridge deep differences with poor nations on fighting climate change.

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