DAKAR, SENEGAL — Only seven of the 53 African Union countries who pledged to commit at least 10 percent of their national budgets to investment in agriculture in 2003 have reached that goal. Aid organizations say that investment in agriculture is key to breaking the cycle of food insecurity and crisis in West Africa. As the declaration approaches its 10th anniversary on Wednesday, the aid groups are calling on AU countries to renew their commitment to the Maputo Declaration.
In 2003, 53 African heads of state agreed to allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to investment in agriculture and livestock by July 2008. Ten years later, only seven countries - Burkina Faso, Niger, Guinea, Senegal, Mali, Malawi and Ethiopia - have reached that target.
Many countries, such as Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau and the Democratic Republic of Congo, currently devote less than three percent of their national budgets to investment in agriculture. This is despite the fact that small-scale farmers represent more than 80 percent of their populations.
Eric Hazard, the campaign manager for Oxfam’s West Africa GROW campaign, said that investment in agriculture is important for a country's development.
"In Africa, we know that 90 percent of the population living in rural areas is living with agriculture and by agriculture. We also know that we are in some regions in West Africa, for example, where we are facing some regular and recurring food crises. So we can’t continue to believe that we will be able to resolve the food insecurities that all the population is facing by ignoring this sector. So it’s critical in terms of guarantees of food security of the population, but it’s also critical to ensure that we will reduce the poverty," he said.
Hazard said that investing in livestock is also important.
In Niger, for example, where livestock accounts for 22 percent of the country’s exports and is considered a key means of reducing poverty among the country’s poorest, only 1.7 percent of the national budget is spent on the sector.
Mamadou Alassane Ba is the coordinator for the western branch of the Association for the Promotion of Livestock in the Sahel and Savannah. He said that increasing agricultural investments has little to do with the size of a country’s budget.
He says that obtaining the 10 percent level of investment in agriculture is a matter of political will. He says that while many countries in the region do face real challenges, even some of the world’s poorest countries have been able to achieve the 10 percent goal. There are many other countries, he says, who have the means to reach the 10 percent, but have not yet taken the initiative. So that’s a matter of political will, he says.
Hazard said that while reaching the 10 percent goal is important, it's only the first step. The quality of the investment is also important.
"Even countries that have been able to reach [the 10 percent] - for example, the case of Burkina Faso, who is the champion of Maputo, who was the first one, in fact, who dedicated the most resources in its agriculture budget - the actual execution, the real expenditure of this budget, remain very low. Only between 65 and 70 percent of resources allocated are really spent [on farmers]," he said.
Hazard said the money often goes to ministry expenditures, such as employee salaries and meeting costs.
Experts say that West Africa’s population is expected to double by 2030. In order to feed the estimated 500 million people who will be living in the region then, and to avoid further and more severe food crises, aid organizations are now urging AU countries to renew their commitment to the Maputo Declaration and make quality investments in the agricultural sector.