Sub-Saharan Africa is on the brink of starvation. In spite of
efforts made by the
government and private organisations, the agricultural scene
ONE-THIRD of all Africans are undernourished. It is shocking to
learn how rapidly and dangerously food security continues to
deteriorate, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Soil fertility is
on the slide, yields per hectare of principal food crops are
declining and population growth has exceeded growth in food
production in most African countries over the last 15 years.
Every year, more than four million African children die before
reaching the age of five. And the number of the poor is
expected to increase by 50 per cent by the year 2000.
The World Bank (WB) estimates that African countries
must increase iigricultural production by four per cent per
annum, if all its citizens are to become
secure as far as food is concerned.
African agronomists are optimistic. For
them the brightest spots being the
growing number of community based
efforts that are successfully increasing
productivity. But scattered local success
stories are not enough to tackle the present situation.
Years of neglect and practice of
faulty farming techniques have ruined
the farmlands. Improvement of agricultural productivity and sustainability can
be achieved, since the land was once fertile. But the quick growth in production
that one saw in south and southeast
Asia during the Green Revolution of the
'60s and '70s cannot be duplicated in
most African countries because the
basic infrastructure like the network of
roads, irrigation systems and agricultural finance and land
tenure systems are not adequate. The continent's acute shortage of water for agriculture is particularly glaring.
High priority needs to be given to the establishment of
secure land tenure systems. These systems must provide farmers with long-term loans so that they overcome investment
phobia. Also, farmer-oriented credit systems are essential for
providing funds for buying seeds and fertilisers. Upgrading
the fertility of Africa's soils is probably the most urgent, and
many ways the most difficult part of anti-hunger strategy.
There is already an intense dialogue going on with the WB,
the International Fertilizer Development Centre, the
International Food Policy Research Institute and others on
evaluating such an approach. The wB must, as a central part of
its overall food security strategy, examine how it can support
research on organic sources of nutrients carried on by the
International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, the
International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics,
the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and other
African agricultural research organisations.
This support should be made available both directly to the
international research centres and to African scientists working in viable national agricultural research systems and networks. The objective of this kind of effort is to make available
to farmers large quantities of organic nutrients, to produce
enough surplus to ensure their country's food security.
In addition to this, the Bank should try to develop major
off-farm sources of affordable phosphorus for African farmers
as rapidly as possible. Here, the International Fertilizer
Development Centre will have a key role to play. Without
more phosphorus in most African
farming systems, production will fall,
even with the provision of enough
How these nutrients can be produced, distributed and paid for is far
from clear. Many Africans believe that
some sort of temporary fertiliser subsidy, national or international, should
be considered, keeping in mind the
urgency of restoring soil fertility.
Sustainable farming systems that
will help farmers combat climatic stress,
diseases and soil problems are yet to be
developed and tested for many of
Africa's agro-ecological zones. Acidtolerant legumes, hardy food crops and
integrated pest management systems
must be developed for the farmers.
Africans now depend heavily on the
international agricultural research centres to develop and
locally adopt farming systems.
Given the weaknesses of most national agricultural
research systems in Africa, the magnitude of centres must have
stronger multi-donor financial support. Likewise, donors
should continue to support the special programme for African
agricultural research, which will strengthen all agricultural
research going on in the country. For many years the wB has
supported agricultural research in Africa and this must
All efforts should be made to convince African govern-
ments about the seriousness of their food security problems,
and the inevitable damage if they fail to take early and effective
action to promote agricultural development and family plan-
ning. The governments should aim at getting as much cooper-
ation as possible from all donor countries for supporting their
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