Last week, as I listened to many notable speakers last week from President Obama to Bono and several African heads of state, at the Chicago Council symposium, I was very encouraged that finally we all seem to be speaking the same language about food security in Africa.
I heard not just the right messages, but the same messages.
They all agreed the Africa’s smallholder farmers are a key lever to food security. We must support them to access inputs, seeds, fertilizer, finance and markets. Only by addressing their needs – giving them the tools and technology they need to prosper – will we increase food production at the speed and scale required.
Through AGRA’s support, an additional 40,000 metric tons per annum of hybrid seed, representing one third of the commercially produced seed in Africa, is now reaching smallholder farmers. These seeds have been produced by 60 small, African-owned seed companies launched with capital and strengthened by AGRA - a 100 percent increase in the number of such companies. In terms of food production, this means an additional 4 million metric tons of staple crops per annum. Our experts believe that the tipping point to food security with respect to improved seeds is 500,000 metric tons per annum of high yielding, improved crop varieties.
Africa uses less than 3 percent of the global fertilizer production. If this is increased to just 6 percent, it can have a dramatic impact on agricultural production, and food security. Doubling fertilizer use to 20kg per hectare, a target set by AGRA, in combination with 500,000 metric tons of improved seed, would increase Africa’s grain crop production by 50 percent, and eliminate the current food deficit, turning Africa into a net surplus producer.
And when farmers have more produce they must also have markets in which to sell it. We must support them to reduce post-harvest losses, store their produce, and receive correct market information. In addition, AGRA is encouraging regional integration as well as promoting agro-businesses that add value to what is being produced.
In partnership with African governments and commercial banks, AGRA has pioneered innovative, risk sharing, finance schemes that have already allowed millions of smallholder farmers for the first time to access nearly $1 billion in credit to invest in their farming businesses.
Smallholder farmers need support in so many areas to really transform Africa’s agricultural sector. It is so encouraging to see the global development community united in its approach and resolve.
Now we are all on the same page. The importance of agriculture to Africa’s economic development has never been as widely accepted as it is today. We have built the model and have proof of concept. And now, we have all the players at a ‘global table’. So now, let us get on with it and put these words into action.