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Economists: Investment in African Farmers Can Defuse Food Crisis 'Time Bomb'


The global food crisis can be solved, and at the same time African countries can prosper, if the world invests in Africa's agricultural sector. That's the assessment of experts meeting this week in South Africa for the World Economic Forum. For VOA, Terry FitzPatrick has details from Cape Town.

Monty Jones directs Ghana's Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa. To him, the recent rise in food prices is more than a humanitarian crisis. He says it's a business opportunity.

"We all believe that agriculture is the backbone for economic growth in Africa," said Jones. "And I think that Africa should turn around this as an opportunity to increase its food production. And, I believe that we are getting ready for that."

Jones was speaking at a debate on how Africa should respond to the growing problem of food insecurity. Panelists agreed that African farmers have been neglected. As a result, they grow less per acre than anywhere else in the world. Experts predict the current food crisis will force leaders to provide farmers with better education, affordable fertilizer, high-yield varieties of seeds, and improved irrigation.

The deputy director of the United Nations World Food Program, Sheila Sisulu, says $1.2 billion of help is coming.

"There is an agreement that we have to save lives and buy time for the investment in agriculture to kick in," she said.

"We would insist that the investments in agriculture need to be targeted to women farmers in Africa because women in Africa are the ones who product 70 percent of the food consumed," she added.

South Africa's Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, cautioned the forum against overreaction and trade protectionism. He says countries are feeling pressure to look out for themselves instead of working together. He noted that fishermen in Europe have been demanding subsidies that could hurt Africa.

"Fishermen were out in town, throwing Molotov cocktails, demanding that Brussels subsidies their diesel prices," said Manuel. "Well, if Brussels does it, it puts fishermen in the developing world out of business because we can't do it."

The leader of South Africa's ruling party, African National Congress President Jacob Zuma, is also worried. He told the forum that hunger could cause political instability.

"The issue of the food prices is actually a time bomb," said Zuma. "Because with those who have the budgets to adjust, it's one thing. But with those who have no money to buy at all, once the food price goes up, they are cut out even from the possibility of buying food. Then you are sitting with the situation that an uprising could emerge."

Zuma told the forum that if leaders do not move quickly, the current crisis will deepen.

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