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FAO Panel: Half of Aid for Africa Should Go to Farming

A new report about resources needed to fight poverty in Africa was discussed during a special session of the Committee on World Food Security, which closed its 31st session at the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Rome. Speakers agreed that half the aid needed for the continent's problems must go to the agricultural sector.

The 17-member Commission for Africa was established last year to define the challenges facing the continent and to provide recommendations on what needed to be done to reduce poverty. Its lengthy and in-depth report was discussed on the final day of the 31st Session of the Committee on World Food Security in Rome

Commission member Anna Tibaijuka explained that the report looks at economic growth and trade, the debt crisis, the importance of aid, the exploitation of natural resources, governance, corruption, and human development in Africa.

"The report has recommended a set of interventions which when taken together they will be able to break the gridlock and the vicious circle in which the African continent finds itself," said Ms. Tibaijuka.

Ms. Tibaijuka said the report calls for more aid, half of which is needed for the agricultural sector, which is in need of investment for infrastructure, technology, support services and marketing systems. She said there is hope for agriculture.

"Given the right policies, African economies have the potential to diversity and upgrade their agriculture to achieve economic growth and poverty alleviation," she added.

FAO Director General Jacques Diouf said the report shows agriculture cannot be ignored because in some African countries it provides 80 percent of the population with income and employment.

He said investment in irrigation is necessary because only four percent of arable land is irrigated.

"This report indicated clearly that we would need $2 billion a year between now and 2015 to double the figure from four percent to eight percent in sub-Saharan Africa," he explained.

The FAO Director-General added other areas needing urgent attention include rural infrastructure, storage and conservation capabilities, and the building of markets.

The President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Lennart Bage, also said that it is impossible not to consider agriculture when the objective is development and alleviating poverty.

"We have paid too little attention to investments that directly impact productivity, production, and incomes for the rural poor, for the small-holder farmer, for the 70 to 80 percent of the population employed in agriculture," he noted.

To support the changes needed, the Commission for Africa called for $25 billion per year in aid to be implemented by 2010. Its report said rich nations should commit to a timetable for giving seven-tenths of one percent of their annual income in aid. The report also called for cancellation of debt owed by poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa.