The Road to Reduce Poverty and Undernourishment in Africa: How Investment in Research and Agriculture Can Help

With Financing for Development a hot topic, there are clear signs that investing in agriculture is the right thing to do. Globally, 842 million people are estimated to be undernourished. By 2012 alone, the number of hungry people in Africa grew to 239 million. The goal to reduce poverty and undernourishment by half is unachievable for the year 2015, and will require serious focus within Africa. Agriculture plays a critical role in African livelihoods, and the competitiveness of this industry affects the income earnings of the African population. My friend Richard Mkandawire co-authored an article which speaks to Africa's challenges in attaining MDG1 by 2015 and will be published by the University of Capetown in a couple of months. Richard believes that "accelerated growth in African agriculture, which contributes more than any other sector to rising incomes in rural areas where most people live and work, is essential to achieve Millennium Development Goal 1".

Countries within Africa which are making progress towards halving poverty and undernourishment include Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda and Uganda. These countries are pioneers in altering the future outcomes of hunger and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, and have made a commitment to their own agricultural development, investing to meet CAADP commitments. The FAO explains that despite the migration of people from the countryside to cities and the growth in urban population, the rural population will continue to grow. In future, the population of Sub-Saharan Africa is predicted to double from 770 million in 2005 to approximately 1.5-2 billion in 2050.

For low-income farmers, one of the key issues is not having access to capital required to help adapt their outputs to market demands. Farmers have encountered low productivity with small crop yields, combined with a dependency on export earnings. With protected and nurtured resources, such as access to proper land, water and human resources, Africa has the potential to achieve a sustainable food security system. This creates opportunity for Africa to become a key influencer in world hunger, creating higher value-added foods, and bio-energy products. Urbanization and the growing population creates agricultural growth in sub-Saharan Africa through domestic and intra-African demand for food commodities. The agricultural GDP grew 3.2% a year in Africa between 2000 and 2010, which was an increase from the previous decade of a 3% increase a year. This moderate growth has had great influence in reducing poverty levels throughout many African countries. Agricultural successes in Africa have evolved on the production side from technological breakthroughs, providing optimism for recovery and continued growth in exports.

The future is brighter as Africa looks forward to increased efforts in providing access to agricultural resources. The Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS), emphasizes investment in research and development, and infrastructure for agricultural development. The changing demands for food from demographic and socio-economic shifts represents an opportunity for African agriculture. Agricultural innovations from Europe and Asia which took place over centuries are now being implemented in Africa in mere decades. Programs like the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme and the African Green Revolution are paving the way for an opportunistic future. The emphasis on protecting resources, wealth creation, defining strategy and investment will help shift Africa from a continent known for poverty and hunger, to a well deserved continent with rich agricultural possibility.