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Agricultural gains in Africa crippled by funding crisis

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(Read caption) Razack Munboadan (l.), senior manager with Karuturi, an Indian company with four commercial farms in Ethiopia, talks to his workers at Karuturi's farm in Bako, central Ethiopia.

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• A version of this post originally appeared on the blog, A View From the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own.

African countries are making promising agricultural gains, but the progress remains in the balance due to a $4.4 billion funding shortfall, warns a new report by the ONE Campaign. That is in addition to $11 billion in agriculture funding pledged by G8 nations that has yet to be disbursed.

The ONE report cites 2013 as an important year for agriculture in Africa because it is a time when international and domestic funding agreements come to an end.

“African leaders have the opportunity to deliver on their goals of lifting millions from extreme poverty and hunger and preventing chronic malnutrition by meeting these commitments,” write the report’s authors.

Edward Carr of the University of South Carolina was general supportive of the report, but noted that the problem of agriculture may be one that is about markets rather than production.

“There is no discussion on the massive rate of loss between farm gate and market in this region,” Mr. Carr says. “The report raises further questions. Is there really a production shortfall or a marketable crop shortfall?” 

The heads of state for the countries of Malawi, Senegal, Cape Verde, and Sierra Leone have been invited for a two-day visit to the White House at the end of this week. The countries are among the six highest performing African countries in the ONE report and have strong ties to US agriculture initiatives such as Feed the Future and the Millennium Challange Corporation (MCC).

ONE believes that the Obama administration may add Malawi and Senegal to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a move that further commits US support for agriculture development in the two countries.

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The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) established by African leaders in Maputo in July 2003 set forward the goal of countries allocating 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture. Since then, 24 countries signed the agreement and have developed national agriculture plans. The ONE report assessed 19 of the signatory countries and found that only 4 have met the 10 percent spending target.

Despite the fact that the majority of countries are off the spending target, there are signs of promising progress. Eight of the 19 countries are on pace to half extreme poverty by 2015, meeting millennium development goal 1a. Additionally, 13 of 15 countries with adequate data will meet the second CAADP goal of annual agriculture growth of 6 percent or more.

Duke University researcher Marc Bellemare pointed out that trade is missing from the report. He says that development gains will be made through policy changes as opposed to simply increasing aid.

“For 60 years, we have been telling developing countries to open themselves up to international trade, that trade is not a zero-sum game. But international trade only helps a country if it can tap into its comparative advantage, which for developing countries is agriculture,” says Mr. Bellemare.

“We are undermining the comparative advantage and constraining the economic development of the developing world by refusing to liberalize agricultural trade and heavily subsidizing our own agriculture,” he adds.

Ethiopia is one of the countries that performs relatively well in the report’s scorecard. The East African nation spent an average of roughly 15 percent of its national budget on agriculture in the 2000s and spent 19.7 percent of its budget on agriculture in 2011. The money has been invested in disaster risk reduction and food security programs for the country’s drought-prone populations.

The massive famine in Ethiopia from 1983 to 1985 killed an estimated 400,000 people and sparked the massive awareness campaigns like Band Aid’s Do they Know it’s Christmas and the Live Aid concerts (see a news report from 1984 on the famine here).  The cycle of droughts and continuous food insecurity led the country to launch the Productive Safety-Net Programme (PNSP) in 2005 as a way of traisitioning from emergency food aid to cash-based social protection.

PNSP supported the food needs of 7.8 million Ethiopians, rehabilitated roughly 40,000 hectacres of land and undertook infrastructure building projects in its intial four year phase. The World Bank was optimistic about its early progress, but some doubts have been raised about the reliability of the data provided.

“The narrative is that the corner [as far as food security is concerned] has been turned, but that is a narrative carefully controlled by the government. Time will tell,” said an anonymous food security analyst to IRIN humanitarian news service.

ONE’s report called for a greater level of transparency from the Ethiopian government, citing that the information available "does not seem comprehensive."Transparency is among other issues that the report repeatedly presses for more improvements across the countries evaluated. Other areas in need of improvement include increasing the ability of non-state actors, such as civil society and the private sector, to participate in the implementation of programs and a greater focus on women farmers.

“While women farmers contribute up to 50% of labour on farms in sub-Saharan Africa, women do not have the same access, credit or inputs as men and own only 1% of land,” says the report. “More secure property rights for women, and indeed more transparent legal ownership of land overall, would help facilitate access to services as well as responsible investment.”

There is also a small, but important mention about nutrition, says Carr. He adds, “I like the fact that they are pointing to nutrition here, as I do think that is  an under-discussed issue.”

With the African Union looking towards agriculture in 2014 and the upcoming meetings regarding hunger at the G8, the conversation is turning towards agriculture and food security. A coalition of British NGOs hope that their Enough Food If campaign can draw attention to the issue and propel the current momentum towards ending hunger.

“The agenda we have set out is radical – more so than Make Poverty History. This is the agenda we’ll campaign hard for, engage millions in and what we’ll judge by. The real challenge over the coming months is to put all our efforts into making as big a difference as we possibly can,” said the campaign in a statement at their launch. 

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