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African Food Basket: Innovations, Interventions and Strategic Partnerships

June 14, 2011 // 3:00pm4:30pm
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Speakers:

H.E. Ngwazi Prof. Bingu wa Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi

Jane Harman, Director, President, and CEO, Woodrow Wilson Center

Steve McDonald, Director of the Africa Program and Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity, Woodrow Wilson Center

After an introduction by Wilson Center President Jane Harman, Malawian President Mutharika proceeded to outline the initiative that he had begun, as Chairman of the Africa Union in 2010, on the African Food Basket.

“The greatest challenge facing humanity in modern times is not the threat of nuclear proliferation, but the threat to peace and security arising from failure to produce enough food to feed humanity” remarked President Mutharika. He noted, however, that with targeted investments and enhanced cooperation between African governments and international actors, Africa would be capable of feeding itself and the entire world.

The President acknowledged the challenges that face global food security; namely inadequate policy, low domestic budgets dedicated to food production, low private sector investment, poor food storage and preservation, lack of technology, and climate change. However, he stated “if a global compact could be reached to channel more investment to African agriculture and food security [we] would be able to combat the increased food shortages, hunger and malnutrition that threaten humanity.” Citing his track record in Malawi of turning a food deficit into a food surplus in less than five years, President Mutharika asserted that “no nation can achieve economic takeoff without sustained food security” and called for greater cooperation between Africa and the outside world to meet the millennium development goals set forth by the United Nations (UN).

He focused on four steps to ensure food security on the continent: (1) Sustainable land and water management, (2) Improved market access and integration, (3) Research and technology dissemination and adaptation, and (4) Increased food supplies to reduce hunger.

Sustainable Land and Water Management

President Mutharika emphasized the importance of installing irrigation systems to decrease reliance on rain fed agriculture. Furthermore, the adverse impacts of climate change could be offset by extensive irrigation to “create green belts to our own African rivers and lakes that provide new arable lands for producing a variety of foods and cash crops” he said. In order to foster the growth of these systems, it is essential to create manufacturing opportunities to produce the equipment necessary and to make that equipment available to all farmers regardless of scale. He called on private investors, both African and international, to support efforts to establish industries in areas that can benefit from irrigation.

Improved Market Access and Integration

In President Mutharika’s opinion, transportation is the cardinal link to regional integration and improved access to domestic and international markets.  Mutharika admitted that infrastructure is both lacking and necessary to facilitate trade; this would include developing roads, railways, and ports that would connect the disparate regions of Africa. Railroads, he argued, could play a critical role, and a new program to finance their construction should be developed.  Those projects, he said, were already underway in the African Union (AU) framework. Linking landlocked countries, such as South Sudan and Uganda, to the sea via railroad would open new trade routes, thereby allowing farmers to access otherwise unattainable markets.

Research Technology Dissemination and Adaptation

President Mutharika also spoke of the need for the harmonization of seed policies with international laws and procedures, since farmers’ access to the highest quality and most affordable seeds would improve productivity in Africa. Additionally, investment in fertilizers should be a priority for the donor community, as fertilizers contribute to food security. He proposed that developed countries assist Africa in formulating a comprehensive database so that countries and farmers can share technology, supplies, and information on commodity prices.

Energy, posited the President, is a pre-condition for economic and social development. Leaders on the continent recognize that this sector is underdeveloped, and have begun initiating national and regional projects to increase energy supplies. President Mutharika said that he dreams of connecting all of Africa in order to guarantee sustainable energy from across the continent.

Increased Food Supplies to Reduce Hunger

Food security, the President reiterated, is sustained through “huge investments and financial allocation to agriculture, improvement of land, access to farming tools, mitigation of climate change, and improvements on storage to prevent post-harvest food loss.”  He broached the controversial subject of subsidies, stating that Malawi has wrestled with international institutions, because his country wants agricultural subsidies for its farmers. Mutharika pointed out that, “in the industrialized countries including the United States, [the European Union], and Japan there are very sophisticated agricultural systems using tractors, technology, and early warning system etc., [Farmers] receive huge amounts of subsidies. In Malawi and other Sub-Saharan African countries, agriculture is done essentially by women. You get a woman with a hoe, a baby on her back, who at midday in the burning sun probably has not had a cup of tea or water. And we are told that that a woman does not need subsidies, but the farmers in Europe and North America do... I decided with or without the support of the international community that I would introduce the subsidies.”         

On an African Level

President Mutharika suggested that other Sub-Saharan African nations have taken pages from Malawi’s success story, not only in the duplication of policy, but by ensuring that every citizen knows how to and accepts the fact that they can feed themselves. Countries should assess the staples that are grown in different regions and create databases through information technology. African governments, he stated unequivocally, must take the lead and cooperate with each other within their respective regional economic communities. They must not rely solely on the international community for foreign investment, but support the growth of the African private sector to bring in agricultural investments.  Sub-Saharan Africa should coordinate its strategies to better implement Africa Union initiatives and design a best practices methodology of achieving food security in the next five years. 

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