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  • on 29.10.2012
  • at 05:21 PM
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Africa: the open road to food sustainability 0

Africa’s demand for basic foodstuffs is rapidly increasing, but while its farmers fail to meet that demand, hunger will become more acute. The situation is bleak. The demand for food staples is predicted to double by 2020 as urban populations grow by 4% each year.

Much of that growth is made up of low-income earners who spend the majority of their pay on basic food items. African countries have tended to satisfy the increasing demand though more expensive imports on the global market. Only 5% of African countries’ cereal imports come from within Africa. It’s a situation primed for hunger and unrest.

In a new report, “Africa Can Help Feed Africa”, the World Bank looks at how the continent can prevent food shortages and unlock its massive agricultural potential. The general recommendations might be predictable for the institution known for its support of neoliberal policy, but they offer key recommendations to achieving food sustainability. The report looks at how opening up cross-border trade will increase Africa’s potential food production, increase food security by improving access to food, and raise returns for small-scale farmers

It begins with the basic premise that regions have natural food surpluses in certain staples and deficits in others; the key is to maximise output and get the food to where it’s needed. Attempts at national self-sufficiency haven’t worked and the effects of climate change will only make production more volatile, says the report. “Removing barriers to regional trade presents benefits to farmers, consumers and governments.” Farmers will make more money from meeting the rising demand; consumers get cheaper access to food and benefits such as jobs from a growing agricultural sector; governments can better deal with food security.

But from producer to consumer, barriers to regional competition and trade have limited agricultural output. Because of inconsistent policies within Africa, seeds and fertilisers are generally imported from outside at high prices, with new innovations coming years later than in other developing regions. Transport services remain extremely expensive, outdated and uncompetitive as roadblocks eat time and money. Regulations on imports and exports are volatile, with changes often only communicated to foreign producers when they reach the border. Those borders remain hotbeds of corruption and abuse: traders are regularly harassed, sexually abused, or forced to pay bribes.

From a private investor’s point of view, the enormous potential hardly seems worth the costs and risks. But the World Bank argues that if these problems are addressed, the incentives for farmers will greatly increase. Production will then rise and consumers can get basic foodstuffs from a neighboring region rather than foreign shores.

It’s hardly the rousing rhetoric of a Kwame Nkrumah calling for African integration or a Thabo Mbeki asserting confidence and hope about the continent. But the report’s message is both obvious and clear: Africa can feed itself. Its message is simple: boost trade within the continent. It follows a wave of Afro-optimism and calls to increase trade on the continent by addressing the basics – reduce border barriers, streamline the visa process, and increase collaboration on linking infrastructure.

Continue reading on Daily Maverick

By Greg Nicolson

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