The Chief of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NEPAD,says agricultural development is the key to prosperity for Africa. Ibrahim Mayaki says the bill for food imports in Africa runs about $40 billion a year, but if half that amount is invested in sound agricultural policies, the pay off could be tremendous.
In 2002, African leaders established the NEPAD-led Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). Its main goal is to use agriculture-based development to end hunger, reduce poverty and food insecurity, as well as increase opportunities for Africa to become a food exporter.
NEPAD chief Ibrahim Mayaki was in New York for discussions Wednesday about African development in the U.N. General Assembly. He said agriculture is not just a sector in Africa, it is a way of life, because the majority of Africans live in rural areas. "So, if we want to reduce poverty and create wealth, we have to put the priority on that dimension so that we create generating income activities," he said.
He told VOA that requires assisting small farmers in getting access to seed and fertilizers and also providing them with the infrastructure, such as good roads, for getting their produce to markets. Another key element, he said, is the expansion of regional markets through intra-African trade.
Mayaki says financing for this initiative should come from Africa first. "We need, absolutely, to focus on the restructuring of our own public resources towards agriculture, and then the resources coming from the international community will be a complementary form of resource," he said.
Developing agriculture in Africa has become even more urgent since the United Nations warned in a report earlier this month that governments must increase investment in agriculture because a billion people around the world are going hungry - 265 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2003, African leaders pledged to allocate 10 percent of their budgets to agriculture by 2008, but the United Nations says only eight countries have implemented that promise. Mayaki says that is true, but that national spending on agriculture is increasing across Africa.
He said NEPAD aims to have tangible results with its agricultural initiative within the next few years. "We need to have these results within the timeframe of three to five years, absolutely. Otherwise, we will face political challenges and our institutions will really be challenged. So we need to do that for the sake of peace and security," he said.
At the end of the day, he said, agriculture is a political issue.