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Translating African Union agriculture dreams into reality

Tue, 13 Apr 2004 Source: GNA

A GNA Feature by Clemence Okumah

Accra, April 13, GNA - African Leaders at the end of a two-day Second Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) recently, advocated the immediate establishment of an African Common Market for agriculture produce and commodities. Member states of the Union were requested to identify and promote agriculture products required for the market and to be committed to their production.

These are contained in a 25-point Declaration on the Challenges of Implementing Integrated and Sustainable Development on Agriculture and Water in Africa, adopted by the meeting in Sirte, Libya.

Currently Africa cannot favourably negotiate and make a global impact because of its fragmented markets and the Leaders should provide the framework to reverse the trend.

Africa also needs a standard policy towards agriculture improvement and trade expansion to develop the capacity of the economies of various countries for a larger share of the international market. In this regard the Leaders also affirmed their promise to identify and support the production of viable agricultural commodities to facilitate economic and industrial growth on the Continent. These measures if effectively implemented would definitely serve as platform for the Continent to fully utilize its potentials and the comparative advantages of various countries in agricultural production and other economic ventures.

It could further facilitate the correction of discrepancies in food balances on the Continent and the exploration of new methods for the payment of trade transactions.

No wonder, the Leaders pledged to promote intra-African trade in agriculture and fishery products.

Notably, they also called for the initiation of clear plans for export-oriented industrialisation; promotion of regional co-operation and integration, based on comparative advantage in establishing industries, particularly those needed for agricultural development. Securing better terms of trade and increasing contacts of African countries in world trade are necessary for Africa' s development. The meeting, therefore, pledged to ensure co-ordination on Africa's position at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and other international trade negotiations.

The African Leaders stressed the need for Africa countries to encourage bilateral agreements for the sharing of water resources. They enjoined the various regional economic communities on the Continent to develop appropriate regional protocols to guide integrated water resources management.

To set in motion a hardheaded agriculture development programme, Water Resources Ministers from 10 African countries sharing the Nile waters met in Nairobi to discuss the future of the River.

The countries: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, the Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda indicated their devotion to working out a common agreement to serve as a springboard for developing the equitable utilization of the Nile.

Though the 6,741-kilometre Nile, the world's longest river, is a great resource, analysts have identified the water body as a potential source of regional conflict over the next 25 years, as the availability of water becomes less and less.

Since modern agricultural practices partly revolves around heavy capital investment, the African Leaders have promised to expedite action on the establishment of an African Investment Bank to support the financing of agriculture projects.

The mandate given to the Chairman of the AU, Former President of Mali, Alpha Oumar Konare, to undertake a feasibility study for the setting up of an African Agricultural Development Fund, further demonstrates the dedication of African leaders to agriculture development.

The truth of the matter is that many farmers in Africa cannot on their own push the type of agriculture revolution the AU is professing because of their low purchasing power and the lack of cash. Actually, the impact of macro-economic reforms on agriculture has been harsh in some African countries.

Farmers, therefore, need subsidies or loans to enable them to acquire critical inputs such as fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, storage facilities, tractors and other modern farming tools, hybrid seeds, birds and animals if they were to increase productivity. The use of obsolete farming tools and outmoded agriculture practices can only support subsistence farming.

But what Africa needs now is the establishment of plantations for the production of crops like cocoa and coffee in large quantities and this require modern agriculture practices and machines, heavy capital outlay and large and secured land.

African governments would have to train more agriculture experts to assist farmers in applying modern agriculture techniques towards increased production.

Collaboration of efforts and pooling of resources by African countries, especially neighbouring countries is essential for agriculture development.

The signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the establishment of an agricultural joint venture to boost agricultural potentials in the two countries by Namibia and Zambia, is therefore, a pace setter for other African countries.

What is unique about the plan is that, Zambia is considering providing 10,000 hectares for the project at Kalumwange in Kaoma District in the Western Province.

Namibia can tap water from the Congo River in order to maximize agricultural output and minimize poverty and food shortages in that country.

The Zambia President Levy Mwanawasa said the move was part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) effort to attain an integrated regional economy to the benefit of all member states.

Namibian President Sam Nuyoma said his country was ready to participate in the joint exercise, saying his government had proposed that the project be based between Sesheke and Senanga because of the area's closeness to the border, hence reducing transportation cost. Namibia is a dry country and would have to embrace the SADC project of the utilization of water from the Congo River into the Zambezi River and eventually to that country.

Indeed, Africa countries should come together to construct dams for hydro- electric power and irrigation projects to enhance agriculture development on the Continent since many rivers flow through many countries.

African Leaders should woo donor countries and international bodies to increase their support for agriculture in Africa.

Though France for instance is already assisting farmers in various parts of Nigeria, to increase productivity and gain access to markets, that country's declaration of its intention to offer more assistance to Nigeria in the field of agriculture is most welcome.

Undoubtedly, the role of developed countries and international agencies in the development of agriculture in Africa is indispensable. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) should not only sustain its investment and technical support in the implementation of food security programmes in few African countries such as Ethiopia but the facility should be extend to other countries.

Indeed, FAO Director General, Jacque Diouf reiterated support of the Organisation to the current efforts of the government of Ghana towards agriculture development.

This, he said, could lead to self-sufficiency in the production of some critical food crops and the national food security programme, which must necessarily be a component of the national security programme. Mr Diouf reminded Africa that one way of addressing its food security problem is to move from the present over-dependence on the weather for food production, and also promote agro-processing, and good storage facilities to reduce the current high levels of food losses.

This aside, Africa require good transportation network to facilitate agricultural activities and the AU should initiate a vigorous transportation programme to build more trans-African highways, railways and improve water transport to link African countries together to enhance agriculture development.

There is also the need for African governments to provide basic infrastructure and facilities such as roads, hospitals, water, electricity and other basic facilities in the rural areas.

This would prevent the exodus of young active youth to the cities and the industrial centres in search of jobs to forestall the situation whereby most agriculture activities in the rural areas are now carried out by women, school-going aged children and the elderly.

There is also the need to reform the land tenure system in Africa, which is based on the principle that land can be used but not individually owed to make it available for the young and energetic people, who would like to undertake agriculture as a full-time employment.

Due to this problem, motivated farmers are often denied access to land, even though physically available because land lease can be revoked at any time.

This for example does not inspire good husbandry practices for instance, because leaseholders cannot be sure of obtaining the long-term benefits of their efforts.

Africa would have to be part of the International Communication Technology to facilitate research in agriculture and to send findings and other information such as weather reports to farmers on time. There is also the need for techno-infrastructure facilities for storage and processing of agriculture produce including animal and fish since post harvest losses is a serious problem facing African countries.

African governments should also develop biotechnology sustaining agriculture programmes to open up new opportunities for crop, tree, animal and fish production.

These can result in skilled employment in villages through biological software industries such as the manufacture of bio-fertilizers and bio- pesticides and the establishment of biomass refineries.

African governments can encourage more private investments in agriculture by making loans and services of agriculture experts available.

Governments of African countries should provide tax breaks, to attract investors in agriculture and agro-industries and to support and encourage agro-industries targeted at both domestic and export markets. Africa would have to ensure peace and stability to enable it to develop its agriculture potentials.

The agreement by the AU meeting to set up an African Standby Force based on the five regional groupings: the North, West, East, Central and Southern parts to deal with conflict situations should be made to see the light of the day.

The AU's efforts to revolutionise the agriculture sector towards a vigorous economic development is grandiose on paper but it would require sound and bold policies supported by practical initiatives. The long and short of it all is that Africa must increase agricultural productivity, improve its markets, provide better infrastructure, harness better trade competitiveness, improve health services and strengthen good governance, the absence of which, would make the AU agriculture initiative look like a mere window dressing.

Columnist: GNA