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Food shortage looms in lands of abundance

As RIOTS erupted in Mozambique's capital Maputo last week, researchers, farmers and policymakers gathered in Windhoek, Namibia, and deliberated on food insecurity in Africa and its repercussions in the near future.

The Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network has been holding annual dialogues on food security since 2001. The aim of these dialogues is to mobilise national governments and civil society organisations to act on food security before it is too late.

Africa, with its vast resources and available land, can feed itself and the rest of the world, researchers say, but poor agricultural policies and lack of investment in the sector is hampering this capability.

The effects of climate change will worsen the present situation.

According to Gerald Nelson, senior research fellow at the US-based International Food Policy Research Institution, there will be an additional 20percent more malnourished children in Africa by 2050, as population increases and more people need food.

Within the Southern African Development Community is the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, which is the highest policy level framework for the development of agriculture in Africa.

Under CAADP is the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, which works to ensure that its member states purposefully move towards the attainment of Millennium Development Goal 1 to cut hunger and poverty in half by 2015.

"The region is undertaking detailed consultations and analytical work to best provide alternative strategies that will allow member states to reach the agriculture sector's minimum growth rate of 6percent required in the CAADP framework," FARNPAN chief executive officer Lindiwe Sibanda said.

Although it is a leading member of SADC, it has not signed up for Comesa nor CAADP.

Thula Mkhabela, senior researcher at the National Agricultural Marketing Council, said it is time South Africa moves away from the perception that all is well in its agricultural sector.

"Our small-scale farmers do not have access to markets. They cannot conclude deals with retailers and exporters because of the need for consistency and certification.

"This is where government should step in at Comesa and CAADP to help these farmers," Mkhabela said.

Speaking at World Congress of Agroforestry at the United Nations in Nairobi, Kenya, last year, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Dr Namanga Ngongi, said investments in African agriculture must focus on the continent's high-potential breadbasket areas.

"These regions have relatively good soil, rainfall and infrastructure and could rapidly change from areas of chronic food scarcity to breadbaskets," he said. Such investments must support the millions of smallholder farmers who grow the bulk of Africa's food.

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