Climate change, growing populations and increasing pressure to produce food for export were some of the topics around food security debated during the annual Festival of Assilah, in Morocco. Dozens of experts from around the continent packed into conference rooms in the town - about 30 kilometres south of Tangier, to discuss the issues.
KINSHASA, DRC (REUTERS) - Agricultural experts from across Africa and the rest of the world recently gathered in Morocco, on the sidelines of the Asilah annual arts and cultural festival, to discuss various issues impacting food security on the continent.
According to a recent World Bank report, Africa's food market, currently valued at 313 billion US dollars a year, could triple if farmers modernized their practices and had better access to credit, new technology, irrigation and fertilizers.
African farmers have a unique opportunity to tap into growing demand from a burgeoning middle class with more expensive tastes, an expected four-fold increase in urban supermarkets in Africaand higher commodity prices.
But factors such as a lack of financial backing for research for small farmers, poor transport and storage infrastructure, climate change and trade policies threaten the continent's food security.
Nigeria's representative to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Yaya Olaniran said there needs to be a shift from seeing agriculture as just a developmental issue, but one that could benefit the business sector as well.
"These are the people who will eventually be the spokespersons to get the millions of farmers out there to be able to have a better livelihood. To be able to say that agriculture is no longer a developmental issue but a business issue," he said.
Despite a decade of strong economic growth and a surge in private sector investment in the region,Africa's share of global agriculture exports has fallen.
Meanwhile, the region is home to more than 50 percent of the world's uncultivated agriculture land, with as much as 450 million hectares that is not forested, protected or densely populated.
Experts say boosting agriculture should become the top priority of governments so that farmers can take advantage of the increase in global demand for food and higher prices.
"Climate change change affects everyone in the same way, but when it comes to food security it is the countries of the South which pay the most for the consequences. But as far as Africa is concerned that shouldn't even happen. We have the land and we have the sun. Why aren't we capable of feeding ourselves. Clearly we know the answer: the colonial period placed emphasis on growing for export to meet the needs of other continents," said Fatou Sow Saar, a gender and development academic from Senegal.
Analysts also say governments should not only depend on agriculture to drive economic growth, but also focus on other sectors to boost employment.
"We are still grappling with how to meet the basic needs of our people. So we have a good record of economic growth, between 5 to 6 percent over the last two decades but we call it jobless growth. We are still under-producing, our capacity to produce is very, very low," said Ghanaian politician and activist, Samia Yaba Nkrumah.
But while there is a need to expand agriculture across Africa, analysts warned there needs to be careful analysis and governments should guard against land grabs for investment.
Proponents of the sales say they are bringing needed agricultural investment to the continent, but others fear the so-called "land grabs" could reduce Africa's own food security and lead to small farmers being pushed off their land.
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