Helping develop Africa’s farming potential to overcome poverty and hunger in the long term is the modern approach of U.S. agricultural assistance to the continent. This approach replaces the former emphasis on emergency humanitarian needs.
The surest way to eradicate poverty and hunger in Africa is to invest in agriculture, says Richard Mkandawire, an agricultural adviser to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). Mkandawire is also the director of the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program (CAADP), which is pegged to NEPAD. A number of African leaders endorsed CAADP in 2003.
“It was at that time that they also agreed to increase their budget allocation to agriculture by 10% in the coming decade,” says the NEPAD adviser. “And clearly since that time, we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in…agriculture.” He uses the word “renaissance” to describe the increasing interest in developing the continent’s agricultural potential.
More than food security
The US interest in helping Africa goes beyond improving the ability to feed people, says Mkandawire; it’s also a matter of international security. Over 60% of the continent’s population – much of which is rural – is employed in agriculture, he says.
The poorest people live in rural areas, and young people especially, if desperate, are vulnerable to the lure of unconventional, politically destabilizing activities such as crime. Some are recruited by warlords and terrorist groups.
Accountability, says Mkandawire, is important to both Africa and the United States as they try to use agriculture to promote economic improvement. He says by using a peer review process, all stakeholders can observe and be observed and work together to solve problems. This includes sharing information and resources from the African Union to local farming organizations and the farmers themselves. An interactive approach insures that decisions by those in authority are not simply imposed on farmers but it encourages them to take part in the decision making process, says Mkandawire.
“For the first time in the history of agricultur[al] development in Africa we’re seeing the US government [and] development partners [in general] beginning to listen to African voices in a manner that is actually unprecedented,” says Mkandawire.
"The US government is saying, 'Can you tell us what it is that you want? We will listen to you and we support you.' And I think that’s a very important departure from past approaches."
Mkandawire praises what are called land grant institutions in the United States. These schools benefited from a federal program created in the 18th century. The government gave the states land that could be used, developed or sold to create and fund educational institutions specializing in certain subjects, including agriculture, science and engineering.
They are highly influential, he says. He expresses appreciation for their support of Africa’s agricultural interests and suggests that they “twin” with African institutions to increase productivity, as they’ve done in the past.
“We need an increased pool of African scientists,” he says, “Indeed, we need a whole range of new scientists in a whole range of new developments that are actually taking place [in the areas of bio-science and agricultural engineering].
Having US institutions continue to work with African institutions is “absolutely critical” to the success of the U.S. Africa partnership, Mkandawire says.