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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Investing in Africa's Agriculture is Key to Global Stability

Tonight, hundreds of millions of African families will go hungry. Similarly, hundreds of millions of children will suffer irreversible cognitive impairment owing malnutrition. The fulcrum of Africa’s food and nutrition security crisis is the dividend from nearly three decades of woeful under-investment in agriculture.

In 2003 African governments, through the Maputo declaration, committed to increase public investments in agriculture to 10% of GDP and adopt governance and policy reforms necessary to accelerate agricultural productivity.

In July 2009, G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy and the World Food Summit in Rome, the world rallied to scale up food security by scaling up investment in agriculture, especially in Africa. At the G8 Summit in May 2012, led by US president Barack Obama, the G8, African governments and private sector partners launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Building on the global momentums from L’Aquila and the World Food Summit, the New Alliance seeks to accelerate the flow of private capital to African agriculture, take to scale new technologies and innovations that can increase sustainable agricultural productivity as a catalyst for long-term economic growth.

In the four months since its announcement, six African countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Mozambique – have joined the New Alliance. The New Alliance has generated strong global interest, leading to engagement with a growing list of countries and companies inspired to increase responsible investment in Africa’s agriculture.

Last week the head of USAID Rajiv Shah announced that 21 private sector companies, a majority of them African companies, committed to invest an additional $500 million in African agriculture. This builds on the more than 45 local and international private sector companies that originally pledged to invest $3 billion toward partner country-defined food security goals, as countries pledged to create environments that are more conducive to private sector investment.

Here is why Africa’s agriculture matters and why we must sustain global commitments to investment flows.

Investing in Africa's agriculture is critical to achieving returns on public investment in education and health. Investing in Africa’s agriculture is a critical down payment for Africa’s sustained economic growth. Hunger is inextricably linked with poverty and economic stagnation in Africa. Malnutrition has reached epidemic proportions in many African countries, often leading to stunting. According to UNICEF, 40% of Africa’s children under 5 years are malnourished. Malnutrition and infectious diseases exist in a malevolent synergy. Malnutrition impairs immunological capacity to fight against diseases.

Health experts have recognized the link between early malnutrition and inadequate infant feeding and the risk of non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Malnutrition exacerbates disease burden, increases health care costs and most balefully, impaired cognitive development can significantly reduce earning potential, leading to intergenerational poverty. The millions of dollars spent in free education will have minimal returns when a majority of African children are too hungry and stressed to learn.

According to the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2012, food production needs to increase by 60% over the next 40 years to meet the rising global demand for food. Of the 83.2 million hectares of land earmarked for agricultural investment worldwide, 56.2 million hectares are in Africa. Investing in Africa's food security is therefore fundamental to the stability global food systems.

According to a recent report by McKinsey Global Institute, Africa’s labour force will reach 404 million and 48% of Africans will have secondary and tertiary education by 2020. In my view, investing in Africa's agriculture has the greatest potential to transform Africa into a vibrant middle-income industrial region. Think about the hundreds of millions of African farmers who use the hand hoe and the oxen plough. Imagine how innovations in design and manufacture of appropriate agricultural machinery could transform agriculture, create millions of new well-paying skilled jobs and catalyze Africa’s industrial growth.

Worldwide, agriculture is a dominant force behind many environmental threats, including greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and degradation of land and freshwater sources. Weak financial flows to promote intensification encourage creation of new land through destruction of critical ecosystems such as wetlands, forests and grasslands. Moreover, destruction of these ecosystems is associated with changes in disease ecology, hence undermining public investments in population health. Responsible investment in Africa’s agriculture is therefore critical to achieving the broad aims of environmental sustainability, especially securing for future generations, the vital ecosystem services.

Investing in Africa's agriculture is vital to long-term regional and global stability. The discontent of hundreds of millions of hungry, unemployed and poor African youth would make the Arab spring look like a picnic. Unrest at such a scale would have enduring catastrophic effects on national, regional and global sustainability. Investing in Africa's food security is therefore inextricably bound with inclusive national economic growth and global prosperity and sustainability.

Investing in Africa’s agriculture is critical to advancing prosperity and securing global sustainability. We know what needs to be done and we have what it takes. Lets get it done.

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