- Current hike in food prices and other related social challenges, aggravating rampant food insecurity in Africa, are said to be putting severe strains on continent's agricultural production, UN's Food Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has said.
Identified challenges comprise climate change, greater demand for food products in emerging economies, agricultural production used for bio-fuels, rapid population growth and urbanisation as well as trans-boundary animal and plant diseases.
FAO director general Jacques Diouf articulated this during the organisation's 25th regional conference for Africa, in Kenyan capital Nairobi, today.
Agricultural imports have increased more rapidly than exports in the last 30 years, Dr Diouf said, with Africa becoming a net importer of agricultural commodities, 87 percent of which were food products in 2005.
The continent's agricultural exports are said to grow by 2.3 percent per an annum from 1996, while its exports as a proportion of global trade fell radically from eight percent in the 1970's to a mere 1.3 percent in 2005.
In spite of efforts made to revive the situation, agricultural production in Africa still remains undercapitalised, inefficient as well as uncompetitive, according to Dr Diouf.
FAO director general was however adamant that good governance could change Africa's agricultural situation, and for the continent to succeed in feeding its population.
He noted that food insecurity is a political issue - a matter of priorities in the face of the most fundamental of human needs.
Reports show that agriculture continues to play a predominant role in national economies of sub-Saharan Africa. It accounts for 17 percent of GDP, 57 percent of employment and 11 percent of export earnings for a population increasing by 2.6 percent per year.
However, in the past 20 years, grain production in Africa rose only by 2.6 percent per year, leading to a rapid increase in imports (3.5 percent per year) to meet requirements.
Some of the major aspects holding back general agricultural development include water scarcity due to drought, unavailable arable land, improper use of fertilisers and scarcity of improved seeds.
Dr. Diouf said the unprecedented hike in food prices, rising 52 percent between 2007 and 2008, has had severe economic, social and political consequences.
He stressed that FAO will continue its mission of providing technical support to member nations for the formulation and implementation of policies, strategies and programmes in order to overcome the challenge of food insecurity in the world.
Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki, speaking at same occasion called for urgent and decisive action to curb rising food prices.
President Kibaki urged participants to come up with practical recommendations that would help in permanently resolving the food crisis that has adversely affected survival and well-being of vulnerable members of society.
"Let me emphasise, however, that for the poor people who are shouldering heaviest burden of current high food prices, a solution must be found now. Therefore as you deliberate on these issues, I hope that you are also considering the fact that we need urgent and decisive action that will lead to prompt improvement of the situation," Mr Kibaki said.
He underscored the need for detailed measures to reverse the prevailing and unfortunate situation and to enable African nations achieve their cherished objectives of food security, economic prosperity and environment sustainability.
The president noted that climate change had also aggravated current food crisis in the world due to erratic and extreme weather patterns characterised by irregular seasons, severe droughts, floods and storms.
Kenyan Agriculture Minister William Rut committed that Kenya, as Chair to FAO conference for next two years, will mobilise African Ministers of Agriculture to campaign to bring down tariffs imposed by developed countries on African products yet they enjoyed free markets for their industrial products.
In some of the issues unraveled during the conference, donors and Non Government organisations as important players in agriculture production, were seen to have under-invested in Africa in the last 30 years, Mr Ruto said, adding that the continent's agro-based economies have to change the tide to feed the population which will reach 2.5 billion by 2050.
Other speakers at FAO conference have strongly appealed to African countries to check trends by securing sustainable agriculture in rural areas.
Outdated farming methods, erratic weather and a volatile international market were also reported to be key to Africa's unprospering agriculture.
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