Thursday, November 15, 2012

Food security requires public-private pacts

By JANE KARUKU

At a recent World Food Prize Symposium in the United States, I shared an important truth: Africa’s farmers are not needy victims.

They have something to offer the world — a vast and verdant supply of arable land.

Like us, the rest of the world needs to eat. To ensure long-term food security, we need to invest in new public-private partnerships in Kenya and across the continent.

We know the most successful partnerships are those in which everyone has made a tangible investment in the outcome.

As conversations on how to feed the future gather momentum — at the recent meeting in the US, the African Green Revolution Forum in Tanzania and the Camp David G8 Summit — it has become clear that we need to focus on combining government resources with private-sector expertise to rapidly expand African agricultural yields and improve global economic growth.

We have seen the power of this model. For example, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) has been working to establish small risk-sharing loans with several commercial banks in order to leverage more affordable credit for farmers and agribusinesses.

Together with our financial partners, we have made a total of $17 million available to three commercial banks, which provided access to about $160 million in credit to farmers and businesspeople.

Our efforts demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach, which is now being taken up on a much larger scale by several African governments.

In addition to building equitable partnerships, we must hold African governments and international donors accountable to keep and fund their commitments. For far too long, we have seen leaders pledge without paying.

Agra is calling on leaders in Kenya to make the important pledge set forth in the Maputo Declaration nearly 10 years ago to invest 10 per cent of its national budget in agriculture. If we invest in agriculture today, African farmers can lead Kenya to a stronger economic future tomorrow.

We must also continue to listen to the voices of farmers in Kenya and across Africa. We must deliver solutions that address the challenges and opportunities they face every day in the fields and marketplace.

One of the challenges facing smallholder farmers is climate change. Agra and its partners are promoting “climate smart” agriculture.

Rebuilding soil health and enabling Africa’s smallholders to grow more on less land will reduce the pressure to clear and cultivate forests and savannahs, thus helping conserve biodiversity and the environment.

Finally, farmers are looking to us to transform the business of agriculture on the continent. We must improve access to financing so they can take their operations to scale.

We must apply global best practices to dramatically increase yields; and we must demonstrate to our young people that there is a strong financial future in farming.

To reduce global hunger and malnutrition, and to help ensure a strong global economy, we need to form action-oriented partnerships, keep and fund our commitments, and maintain a focus on farmers that builds a more food-secure future for all.

Ms Karuku is the president, Alliance for Green a Revolution in Africa (Agra).