The word “hunger” connotes two different experiences: deprivation and desire. In our two African countries, and in the developing world in general, nearly 1 billion people experience a severe lack of food and yearn to lift themselves out of poverty. For our world to be stable, it must become free of the worst forms of deprivation. For our world to be more just, the desires of the poor must be fulfilled.
A decade ago, the world agreed to halve extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 as part of the UN millennium development goals. World leaders gathered in New York last week to renew their commitments for addressing global hunger, even as this goal is slipping away. In fact, due to the steep rise in food prices from late 2007 to early 2009 and the recent global economic crisis, global hunger has actually increased. Today, one out of every six people on earth is undernourished.
Our countries are struggling with multiple interlinked challenges: as food prices turn volatile, poor households’ access to food weakens; as rainfall and temperature patterns change, small farmers lose yields; and when water is scarce and soil is eroding, yields drop. The rate of growth of yields is falling below critical levels for the first time in three decades. Together, these trends make food access and production more uncertain. As this happens, small farmers and people living in poverty who depend on agriculture, especially smallholders, are the most vulnerable.
We know the solutions to our systemic challenges: our farmers need improved inputs, including seeds as well as improved soils; they need roads that will connect them to markets; they need agribusiness credit and private sector investments to spur growth; they need facilities to reduce their estimated 40–60% post-harvest losses and they need training and technology to cope with climate change. Most of all, they are yearning for results. If we can boost agricultural productivity, we can accelerate economic growth and raise incomes for communities, countries and our continent as a whole.
As our governments take action, we need the international community to do its part as well. A green revolution in Africa depends on locally driven solutions plus reliable donor support. Neither ingredient is sufficient on its own – both are indispensable.
That is why Africans, on whose shoulders the responsibility of transforming agriculture rightly falls, have devised a powerful initiative to support smallholder farmers using the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) process. Through CAADP, African nations have developed and are developing comprehensive agriculture strategies and sector investment programmes and have pledged to devote 10% of our national budgets to agriculture. Between 2007 and 2009, Rwanda has increased its investment in agriculture by 30%, and in Sierra Leone, agriculture has gone from 1.6% of the budget to 9.9% in 2010. More than 20 African countries have adopted CAADP.
A year ago, world leaders gathered at L’Aquila and pledged $22bn towards food security and to help reverse three decades of declining donor support for agriculture. The G20 in Pittsburgh called for a multilateral fund to scale up assistance in the agriculture sector. To advance this commitment, the United States, Canada, Spain, South Korea and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme as a new fund to help the world’s poorest farmers. Our two countries were among the first five recipients of $50m grants from this fund.
In Rwanda, two-thirds of smallholder farms are located on steep hillsides, where soil erosion is a major problem. Torrential rains wash away fertilisers and improved seeds before their benefit can be felt. This new fund is supporting an ambitious hillside terracing initiative so that farmers – the vast majority of whom are women – can protect their land, have better yields and generate more income to care for their families. In Sierra Leone, the fund is helping small-scale farmers move from subsistence to commercial farming, including investing in the necessary infrastructure to facilitate the processing, packaging, storage and marketing of agricultural surpluses triggered by commercialisation.
For our two countries, this fund, managed by the World Bank, has proved to be one of the few sources of new and additional financing for agriculture that is aligned with our needs and priorities. The fund reflects the international community’s will to act in a co-ordinated manner on an issue that is fundamental to poor countries’ growth, development and stability. With governance of the fund shared by developed and developing countries, it demonstrates a mutual commitment to sustain our focus on agriculture until the job is done.
Yet, six months after its launch, with a lack of additional pledges, the fund’s sustainability is at risk. Next month, several African countries that have completed their comprehensive agriculture strategies will be approaching the fund for support. Unless new donors come forward, most of these countries will be turned away.
African countries like ours are leading by example. Now, donors must keep their side of the bargain. We urge broader and deeper support for the global agriculture fund. Let our collective action be sustained until we end food insecurity. Let it be inspired by the aspirations of a billion people.
Agnes Kalibata, minister of agriculture and animal resources for Rwanda and Joseph Sam Sesay, minister of agriculture, forestry and food security for Sierra Leone.