AGRICULTURE must become the engine of growth Africa needs to eradicate hunger and boost sustainable food production, U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said.
Speaking at an event on the margins of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Graziano da Silva called on Africa to step up its efforts, explaining that "more than one out of every five of its citizens is still denied the right to food."
Noting that most of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa, he stressed that the region has the power to change the situation.
The challenge for Africa is to make this economic growth more inclusive by targeting agricultural and rural development, women and young people, Graziano da Silva said.
Some 75% of Africans are 25 years old or younger, and the population is expected to remain largely rural for the next 35 years, with women heading up many households.
"Agriculture is the only sector of the economy capable of absorbing this workforce," Graziano da Silva said. "There is no inclusive and sustainable way forward for Africa without women, youth and agriculture."
Governments will have the opportunity to renew their support for agricultural development during the 2014 African Year of Agriculture & Food Security, which was recently launched during the African Union Summit.
"The launch of the African Year of Agriculture & Food Security is an important step towards a hunger-free and sustainable Africa that (late South African leader) Nelson Mandela and many others have dreamed of and fought for," Graziano da Silva said.
He noted that the year will build on the efforts of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), which was launched in 2003.
The African Year of Agriculture & Food Security is being observed in parallel with the U.N.'s International Year of Family Farming, which is also celebrated in 2014.
"For many years and in many parts of the world, small-scale farmers, pastoralist families and fisher folk were viewed as part of the problem of hunger," Graziano da Silva said. "That could not be further from the truth. Family farmers are already the main food producers in most countries, and they can do even more with the right kind of support."
Improving access to financial services, training, mechanization and technology can transform subsistence farmers into efficient producers.
Through methods that increase production while preserving natural resources, family farming also provides a sustainable alternative to input-intensive technologies that have resulted in damage to soil quality, land, water and biodiversity, Graziano da Silva said.
Graziano da Silva praised what he described as "the commitment, at the highest level, of an entire continent" to end hunger in Africa by 2025.
The African Union Summit adopted the target, in line with the Zero Hunger Challenge launched by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2012.
"This is the first time in history that African leaders have made such a strong pledge to eliminate hunger, and it is also a show of confidence that, working together, we can win the fight against hunger in Africa in our lifetimes," Graziano da Silva said after African Union member states officially adopted the target Jan. 31.
"Africa is witnessing economic growth of unprecedented proportions, but it is also the only continent in the world where the total number of hungry people has gone up since 1990," he said.
"The challenge now is to transform the vision of a food-secure Africa into reality by tackling the multiple causes of hunger. Investing in agriculture, creating safety nets and social protection for the poor, guaranteeing the right of access to land and water resources and targeting smallholder famers and young people will be key," he said, adding that FAO will continue to support Africa in its efforts to eradicate hunger.
The 2025 target was initially hashed out in Addis Ababa in July 2013 at a high-level meeting on food security in Africa organized by the African Union, Brazil's Lula Institute — headed by former President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — and FAO.
Governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector agreed on the target as a means of promoting concrete actions that build upon the momentum of CAADP.
Graziano da Silva highlighted the leadership of the African Union Commission and chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in taking this process forward.
"This is a fully Africa-owned effort. The commitment of the African Union Commission was crucial to get where we are today. FAO is committed to supporting the (African Union) and African nations in reaching the 2025 target," he said.
Eleven African countries have already met the first Millennium Development Goal hunger target to reduce the proportion of hungry people by half between 1990 and 2015: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ghana, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome & Principe and Togo.
"This is clear evidence that African countries are moving in the right direction," Graziano da Silva said.
FAO added that three countries — Djibouti, Ghana and Sao Tome & Principe — have also met the even more ambitious 1996 World Food Summit goal to reduce the total number of hungry by half.
The International Food & Agribusiness Management Assn. (IFAMA) will hold its 24th Annual World Forum & Symposium June 15-19 in Cape Town, South Africa, focusing on how to develop and sustain talent across the diverse value chain of global food production — from smallholder farmers in emerging regions of the world to the sophisticated commercial agricultural practices used in mature economies.
"People feed the world, and as agribusiness leaders, it is our responsibility to develop future generations of talent passionate about creating and implementing solutions that will ensure we can overcome the food security challenges in Africa and around the world," said Thad Simons, president and chief executive officer of Novus International and president of the IFAMA board of directors.
At its forum, IFAMA will explore the talent factor as the key to unlocking the potential of agribusiness globally to address the complex challenges faced today: value chains, food and input wastage, optimized production, ecological footprints, regulations and consumer perceptions.
More information on the IFAMA global forum is available at www.ifama.org.
At the recent International Production & Processing Expo, Simons told Feedstuffs that IFAMA was promoting the 40 Chances Fellows program — a global program in partnership with Tony Blair's Africa Governance Initiative, the World Food Prize and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
The fellows program is built on Howard Buffett's "40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World" and will fund four fellows with the most innovative social enterprise plans that address issues of hunger, conflict or poverty in any one of four countries where the Africa Governance Initiative has a strong presence: Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone or Malawi.
Proposals are due by May 31, and more information is available at www.40chances.com/fellows.