Africa Science News Service
By Henry Neondo
June 12, 2009

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has called for the development of key African breadbaskets that would produce food surpluses of staple African food crops.

Making the call, the Chair of AGRA and former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Koffi Anan said “By focusing on breadbaskets, we will reverse decades of rising hunger and move forward to a food secure and prosperous Africa.”

He called for marshalling resources in areas of Africa ripe for agricultural growth, and doing so in ways that benefit smallholder farmers as the best strategy for ending hunger faced by 40 percent of the continent’s population.

Annan was addressing government leaders and CEOs at the plenary session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa.

Two years after assuming chairmanship of AGRA, Annan highlighted aspects of its new strategy. AGRA is a partnership-based African organization that aims to achieve rapid, sustainable agricultural growth based on smallholder farmers and comprehensive change across the agricultural system. Smallholder farmers, the majority women, produce most of the continent’s food, but with minimal resources and government support.

This has meant low yields, over-reliance on food imports and food aid, and entrenched poverty.

AGRA’s new 10-year strategy focuses on marshalling investments and partnerships to develop breadbasket areas, initially in Ghana, Mali, Mozambique and Tanzania.

It will simultaneously invest in another nine countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, setting the basis for future breadbasket development.

“The rush for land by outside players is more proof of the enormous potential of African agriculture. Africa itself must harness this potential,” Annan said.

“One-off land deals will solve neither Africa’s food crisis nor the long-term threats to global food security. Africa’s breadbaskets must be developed in ways that benefit the continent’s major food producers — smallholder farmers. That is the surest route to feeding the continent and producing for export.”

AGRA Vice President Dr. Akin Adesina noted that foreign land deals offer both opportunities and risks. “If arrangements are transparent and inclusive of smallholder farmers, if they deliver know-how and farm inputs and help develop infrastructure, they could contribute to Africa’s growth,” Adesina said. “But, clearly, Africa cannot afford to give away its best lands. It is not time for a ‘going-out-of-business sale.’ It is time for partners to sign up to help build a prosperous new Africa.”“Rapidly improving farmers’ access to good seeds, fertilizers, and soil and water management in breadbaskets will lead to food surpluses,” said Dr. Namanga Ngongi, President of AGRA.

”At the same time, supportive government policies and partnerships to build infrastructure will serve to connect farmers with markets, reduce reliance on food imports and launch a new trajectory of sustainable growth.”

African breadbaskets are areas with high agricultural potential by virtue of their relatively good rainfall, soils, infrastructure and markets; large numbers of smallholder farmers; and governments that are committed to agricultural development, according to AGRA.

They differ, however, from many breadbaskets in other parts of the world that focus on vast monocrops. Instead, AGRA is focusing its efforts to correspond with Africa’s diverse agro-ecologies and multiplicity of crops.

In Northern Ghana, for example, tens of thousands of smallholder farmers grow a variety of crops, including rice, maize, cowpea, groundnuts, and sorghum.

The region is considered Ghana’s breadbasket and contains over 40 percent of its agricultural land. The Ghanaian government has identified agriculture as the most important driver for poverty alleviation.

Some elements of an integrated approach to breadbasket growth would involve strengthening agro-dealer networks and farmer organizations to increase access to affordable quality seeds and fertilizers; improving farmers’ knowledge of integrated soil fertility management; strengthening farmers’ opportunities to add value through agro-processing and their access to affordable financing from commercial banks.

During a side event at WEF, AGRA will report on important progress made during its first two-and-a-half years.

Since 2006, AGRA has forged a series of groundbreaking partnerships with African and global institutions and launched four integrated programs that address key challenges, spanning seeds, soils, market access and policies, and a cross-cutting program on Innovative Financing.

Annan noted that while each of these accomplishments is significant on its own, it is through their focused integration that they will have the greatest impact.