Africa’s Agricultural Sector Grew In ’08, ‘Concerted’ Policy Action Needed For Growth To Continue, FAO Paper Says

The growth of sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural sector in 2008 is a “a break with the past,” but “concerted and purposeful policy action” is required for developments to continue, according to a new U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) paper, VOA News reports (De Capua, 9/28).

“After decades of decline, the sub-Saharan agricultural sector — 80 percent of which consists of smallholder farmers — grew more than 3.5 percent in 2008, well above the 2 percent rate of population growth,” according to an FAO release (9/28). Policy improvements – including “better response to higher commodity prices and technological advances, such as drought-resistance rice” – are behind the sector’s growth, VOA News writes.

Keith Wiebe, the deputy director of the FAO’s Agricultural Development Economics Division, said, “[T]here’s a big question as to what the structure of agriculture will look like in 2050,” adding that a forum of experts will examine this question in Rome in October. “We need to think of [policy action] in very broad terms, not just in terms, for example, of fertilizer or new seed varieties … but … investments that support agriculture. And that can include roads and communications. And … things like investments in education and health that strengthen … human capital, their labor power,” Wiebe said (9/28).

“Agriculture is the motor for rural development, poverty and hunger reduction in sub-Saharan Africa,” according to the FAO release. The paper lists sub-Saharan Africa’s “abundance of natural resources” as one of its “main advantages,” but it notes that distribution of some resources, such as water, “is very uneven.” The release outlines additional challenges – including HIV/AIDS and other diseases, “regional integration, governance and institutional shortcomings in some countries” among others. However, “[i]f Africa’s farmers can be helped to overcome these challenges and take advantage of new and improved market opportunities as the global economic crisis eases, it is widely agreed that the continent has enormous potential for growth in agriculture,” the release states (9/28).

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