Beat back African poverty and emissions with ag green growth

by Lindiwe Majele Sibanda | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 24 May 2011 15:46 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As world leaders meet later this week in France at the G8 summit, they are encouraged to recognise agriculture’s potential contribution to fulfilling two of their priority agenda items: firstly, the broad goal of encouraging global green growth and secondly, the more specific goal of strengthening links with Africa.  

Green growth is concerned with stimulating economic development while creating employment and managing natural resources sustainably. Investing in agriculture can help meet these goals as well as the global goal of food security.

In preparation for these discussions, Farming First is launching an online infographic, “The Story of Agriculture and the Green Economy”, to put forward the case for agriculture’s role in driving sustainable economic growth.  Using data from leading research organisations, the infographic addresses the key components of a green economy including sustainable supply chains, poverty reduction, gender equality, food security and environmental sustainability.

World leaders at the G8 summit should help ensure coherent policies on food security and price volatility, and member countries should take action to support the poorest while supporting market access and small-scale entrepreneurship amongst farmers.

At last week’s UN conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), experts looked at improving the productive capacity of people in the poorest countries, for instance by further developing high-potential sectors such as energy, infrastructure and agriculture.

CUTTING HUNGER AND EMISSIONS

Agriculture is the foundation for most LDC economies, and it is the primary means for eradicating poverty and hunger. Agriculture feeds our population and produces fibre for clothing, feed for livestock and bio-energy.  In developing countries, agriculture accounts for the lion’s share of employment opportunities, especially for women. Agriculture also has one of the highest potentials for reducing carbon emissions and helping vulnerable people adapt to climate change.

By investing in agriculture, farmers can access the inputs they need and be trained in up-to-date practices in order to improve the quality, quantity and diversity of the crops they grow. This then leads to better health and nutrition for their families. Through improved transport links and communication services, farmers can sell their surplus crops at market, building themselves a business that can leverage their family out of poverty and offer new employment opportunities for the community.

At a UN conference on the world’s poorest countries, it was stressed that a significant rise in foreign investment was vital for halving the number of LDCs to 24 in 10 years’ time.  The success of this target depends on foreign aid commitments being met. This week’s G8 summit will hopefully detail just how much has materialised of the L’Aquila pledge of $22 billion towards food security made in 2009.

THE NEED FOR INVESTMENT

By investing in innovations and supporting market access, world leaders can help African smallholder farmers break out of the subsistence cycle and become small-scale entrepreneurs.

When G8 leaders meet a group of the African heads of state as part of their summit this week, they have the opportunity to discuss the potential of African farmers to reduce regional hunger while driving economic growth. Indeed, growth from agriculture contributes at least twice as much to poverty reduction as growth in any other sector.

Yet many African farmers still lack the access to markets and investment capital that could help transform their farming practices. In sub-Saharan Africa, 96 percent of cropland still relies on seasonal rains to support crops, and farmers have access to less than one-tenth the amount of fertilizer that their Asian counterparts use.

An increased investment in research and development is needed, and innovation can be further encouraged through collaborative public-private partnerships, especially to address the uptake gap that sees many farmers unable to access new tools and technologies. We need science-based policies that promote a mosaic of innovative solutions from which farmers can choose according to their own specific needs.

Let’s grow the green economy by putting farming first.

Lindiwe Majele Sibanda is chief executive of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and a spokeswoman for Farming First.