The UN Food and Agriculture Organization is launching two new projects to improve food security in eastern and southern Africa. Both focus on modernizing agricultural systems and promoting market access.
Five countries will benefit from the FAO projects: Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Malawi. Mafa Chipeta is director of the UN agency’s Policy Assistance Division.
"All these countries are committed to modernizing their agricultural sectors and they all have some differences in the way they want to go about it. These projects are intended to support lesson learning and mutual support as they go forward," he says.
The first project aims to strengthen cooperation among Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda – specifically in areas where there is little irrigation and crops are very dependent on rainfall.
"These projects are not intended to focus on developing irrigation. That requires substantive investment. What they do focus on is drawing attention to the fact that the farming community does need assistance. It does need to know what are the opportunities for the market order to give incentives to the farmers to produce," says Chipeta.
The FAO says that includes encouraging efficient use of available water resources and strengthening small farmer organizations through training.
The second project would help improve cassava production in Malawi and Zambia, which have been hit by frequent droughts.
The FAO official says, "Cassava is probably the fastest growing staple food in Africa today. As you know, Africa has been taken over in many ways, in terms of staple foods, by maize. Now maize is a very thirsty crop. It requires good and reliable rainfall. In a region where only four percent of the arable land is irrigated, maize can be risky. And as a result, more and more countries have taken to cassava as a kind of fallback crop."
Chipeta says improving agriculture will lead to better regional trade.
"One of the things we find in the east Africa region is that the trade among them is becoming even more important than trade outside the region. Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, for example, become the most important trading partners to each other relative to the international market," he says.
The Italian Government, under the FAO’s Trust Fund for Food Security, is financing the two projects worth $4.5 million.