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African Agriculture Becomes Hot Topic after Decades of Neglect

Suddenly, after 20 years of relative neglect African agriculture is a hot topic, with a substantial growth in production and new interest among major donors in funding the sector.

That is the message emerging from a series of seminars now taking place in London looking at the constraints and opportunities facing Africa’s farmers.

The figures being presented are impressive and – according to Steve Wiggins, who leads the agriculture programme at Britain’s Overseas Development Institute – confound pessimists who assume the situation to be much worse than it is.

“I often hear it said that Africa is running out of food per head,” he told the seminar. “Now unless these statistics are complete and utter junk, that just simply isn’t true. The index shows 16, 17, 18 per cent more food being produced per capita compared to the early 1980s.”

In particular, he said, two regions – West Africa and North Africa – were surging ahead, although there were signs that production in East Africa too might now be beginning to accelerate.

“For those of us working on Africa,” said Wiggins, “people use Asia as a stick to beat us with. Well, as far as I can see there are two bits of Africa there which have done every bit as well as Asia has done over the last quarter of a century.” Wiggins’ fellow speaker at the opening session was Ousman Badiane, the Africa director of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington.

Turned a corner

He put his finger on the mid 90s as the point when Africa really turned a corner.

With no other overall change which could account for this recovery, Badiane attributed it to the structural adjustment programmes which so many countries had been persuaded to follow.

“I believe it was the result of those strong and messy reform programmes of the 1980s. I remember the pain of it, but it completely changed the environment for agriculture.”

Both speakers were agreed that the food price spike in 2008 and the world economic crisis pose both challenges and opportunities for African farmers.

They worried about a growing protectionism in Asia – a major potential market for African agricultural produce — and about the fact that the speed of Asian development may have closed a window of opportunity for African’s own industrialisation.

Wiggins made the point that “the single biggest stimulus to most farmers is a thriving local city.”

Source: Business Daily Nairobi   Image:

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