Agriculture must respond to the challenge of feeding 9 billion people, while protecting the environment and taking care of rural societies. It will be necessary to:
Eradicate hunger and ensure food security; global food needs will be three times higher in 2030 than they are nowadays. Some production factors can be increased, for example ploughing out more land (like the cerrados in Brazil), improving the access to scientific and technological progress (for instance, agrobiotechnology), more research and development.
Protect the environment and mitigate the impact of human activities on the environment. The threats are known: salinization of soils; increase in sea levels and catastrophic floods; desertification; loss of tropical forests and of the associated biological diversity; overexploitation of farmland and pastures; water scarcity; urbanization and large-scale engineering works.
Take care of rural societies. There are over 300,000 industrial megafarms and 1 billion family farms. The 4 billion human beings who make up the rural societies can alter, through their migrations, the demographic balance. The necessary increase in agricultural production must not ignore the implications for rural societies. A massive exodus from the countryside to the cities will cause enormous problems since cities, industries, and services cannot welcome rural people properly.
There must be a prospective approach to agricultural development:
The political process must strike an appropriate balance between peoples’ right to food security and free trade without frontiers; the science and trade dynamics and the vulnerability of societies, as well as of the environment; the natural and cultural regional diversity and the trend towards the globalization of a model (after the globalization of exchanges).
Good practices must be identified and examples of successful agricultural development should be publicized. In other words, the agricultural models that will lead to sustainable development must be prioritized. The frequency and increased intensity of extreme climatic events, such as droughts and floods, have become additional challenges for global agriculture, which is already facing higher demand due to both population increase and new consumption habits of several developing countries. In order to respond to this challenge, the selection of drought-resistant crops is part of the solution. In December 2010, Bernard Bachelier of the Fondation pour l’agriculture et la ruralité dans le monde (FARM) published a study on the prospects of genetic improvement of crops tolerant to drought. But this is not easy: the control of genes coding for water stress and extreme temperatures is very difficult; it is much more complex to develop these kinds of plants than pesticide-resistant crop varieties. Research in this area is in its initial stages and it targets crops with high economic potential, such as maize, and to a lesser extent, rice, sorghum, or millet, which play a smaller role in global trade, but which are nevertheless essential for feeding the populations of several developing countries . But improved seeds are just one element of crop systems. Farmers confronted with weather vagaries or climate change should be assisted in the improvement of irrigation systems that enable crops to improve their resistance to drought, according to Hafez Ghanem, assistant Director-General of the FAO. Only 4% of agricultural lands in Africa are irrigated .
Worldwide governance must highlight sustainable agricultural development via the WTO’s negotiations on agriculture (Doha round), and the impact on developing countries of subsidies aimed at supporting exports of agricultural commodities.
The African challenge
Of the total of underfed people in the world, at least one-fourth live in Africa. This is the only continent where agricultural production per capita has been decreasing for the past 30 years; it is also the continent where agriculture suffered most from erroneous or inappropriate policies. Between 1970 and 1997, armed conflicts caused losses of agricultural production estimated at about US$52 billion, that is the equivalent of 75% of the total public aid received during the same period.
Africa, where people under 15 years old represent some 45% of the whole population, will have to feed a population that is expected to increase from 832 million in 2002 to more than 1.8 billion by 2050. The agricultural sector, which employs about 60% of the whole population, represents some 20% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and provides more than 10% of the export revenues. It should become the driving force of economic and social development. In July 2003, at their summit in Maputo, Mozambique, the heads of the states and governments of the African Union made a commitment to double the part of their domestic budgets devoted to agriculture by 2010–2011, so as to reach 10%.
By early September 2011, in Montpellier, south-east France, during the Conference on Agricultural Research for Development of the G20 (attended by the member countries of the G20, international organizations and French research bodies, including the Research for Development Institute (IRD)), Monty Jones, president of the World Agricultural Research Forum, executive director of the Africa Agricultural Research Forum, and World Food Prize 2004 Laureate, stated: 'Nowadays, 20% of Africa’s population is underfed or malnourished and its population growth rate is the fastest in the world, 1.8 billion or even 2 billion people in 2050. It is therefore crucial that food production must increase: agricultural strategies should be changed as in the emerging countries, and Africa must adopt a range of strategies. In addition, the necessary infrastructures must be built in order to fit the expected growth in production. Finally, we need to build a domestic market, which was up to now small and fragmented, making it more regional and linking it better with the international markets’. M. Jones gave the example of Rwanda, which made the right decisions after the civil war and is now among the most advanced African countries in agriculture, having increased both its production and productivity, and improved the quality of life of its population. In Sciences au Sud (pp. 1 and 5) , M. Jones added that Africa’s green revolution cannot be the same as that of Asia. There is not in Africa a unique solution such as the one based on rice because African staple foods are different, and technologies should be adapted to a distinct context.
Whereas the yield of irrigated agriculture is three times higher than that of rainfed agriculture, Africa only uses 4% of its available water resources for irrigation; only 7% of farmland (1.6% in sub-Saharan Africa) is irrigated. By contrast, 40% of farmland is irrigated in Asia. The recommended objective is to irrigate 14% of farmland.
An FAO special programme for food security is being implemented in 101 countries, including 42 in Africa. On November 1, 2004, US$766 million had been collected, 67% of which was provided by domestic budgets in the developing countries. The aims are to increase the harvests of cereal, horticultural, and fruit crops through the introduction of higher-yielding varieties; to develop livestock husbandry (small animals and poultry), fisheries and aquaculture; to control insect pests and parasites of plants and animals (for example planting Bt cotton in South Africa and Burkina Faso); to improve food-safety standards so as to facilitate the access of produce to international markets; and to strengthen infrastructures that are needed for marketing products at competitive prices.
Africa has a number of assets. It has plenty of natural resources. The internal market should reach 2 billion people, while for the producers of goods and services, there are great advantages to draw from converting 250 million underfed persons into consumers with an effective purchasing power. According to an FAO study carried out between 1960 and 1990 in 110 countries, the annual GDP per capita in sub-Saharan Africa could have reached between US$1,000 and US$3,500 in 1990 if no malnutrition had occurred; in fact, it did not exceed US$800.
The spike in food and oil prices (due in particular to the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East) has led the World Bank and its subsidiary, International Finance Corporation (IFC), to strengthen their policy of giving a top priority to sub-Saharan Africa regarding their investments into agrifood projects. Financial commitments of the IFC in this region have risen over 8 years from US$140 million (€100 million) in seven countries up to US$2.4 million in 33 countries. This amount, which included loans and participation shares, represented 19% of the investments made by the IFC to support development worldwide, via enterprises, and not via governments. Thus, the IFC has funded and advised societies which linked 13.5 million new consumers to the electricity grid and 47 million people to a mobile-phone company, and which created 161,000 jobs in 2010 .
Agrifood projects are a top priority for IFC. Thierry Tanoh, the IFC’s vice-president since 2003, stated in this respect: 'Why would Burkina Faso, which exports its herds on hoof and loses during the journey one-fourth of the meat weight, not instead create in Ouagadougou a slaughterhouse with the required norms so as to export packaged meat in trucks?’ It is true that the cold chain is not guaranteed because of the lack of electricity, a real plague throughout the continent. The latter needs about 7,000 megaWatts (MW) more every year, while only 1,000 MW are installed. The IFC is therefore supporting studies for building dams and hydroelectric plants. In 2014, about US $3 billion are expected to be invested in sub-Saharan Africa by the IFC, and mostly in agrifood projects that will consist of producing more staple foods and transferring them locally. This approach will not only improve the food situation, but also make foodstuffs processed in Africa more competitive regionally and globally .
Africa wants to make its green revolution
By the late 1960s, under the auspices of the World Bank (which at that time increased by 80% the funds devoted to agriculture for 2 years), the green revolution had been a success in Asia and Latin America. But it failed in Africa. Climate vagaries and credit crunch, soil fertility and insufficient use of fertilizer, and above all, the weakness of the governments, made public administrations and their tools (such as credit organisms, stabilization bodies, training institutions, and dissemination of technologies) inefficient and often corrupted. They also were the first victims of policies of structural adjustment, carried out since the 1980s to save African states from bankruptcy .
The result was that, since the 1990s, agricultural and food production in sub-Saharan Africa has grown much less than that in other regions of the developing world. Between 1996 and 2005, food production rose 2.6% (compared with 3.3% in all developing countries). Of all farmland, 3.5% was irrigated (compared with 22.4% in the rest of the developing world), and fertilizer use amounted to 13.4 kg per hectare (compared with 115.2 kg per hectare). The balance of food in African countries had a deficit of more than US$900 million in 2004, while it was in excess in Brazil by US$15.5 billion, in Argentina by about US$10 billion, in France by US$5.7 billion, and in India by almost US$4 billion .
According to the FAO’s estimates, the number of kcal consumed per day and per capita reached an average of 2,260 in 2001–2003, that is a 0.37% increase over 10 years. For all developing countries, these figures were 2,660 and 0.49%, respectively, and 2,670 and 0.56% for the Asia Pacific region. In 2004, 64% of the African population was living in rural areas and 59% made a thin living from agriculture; 45% of this rural population had access to a source of drinking water and 6.1% to electricity .
The failure was obvious and since 1994, Ismail Serageldin, vice president of the World Bank, has set up a working group on agriculture foresight. This group, led by the ecologist Gordon Conway, proposed a vision for a more environmentally-friendly agriculture. This proposal was included in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), launched by the United Nations and involving 1,300 scientists between 2001 and 2005, and coordinated by the CGIAR. In 2005, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) followed suit; 800 researchers have been involved under the aegis of the United Nations and the World Bank; their work ended in 2007 .
Regarding Africa, at the African Green Revolution Forum, held in Accra, Ghana, at the beginning of September 2010, and where several hundreds of ministers, entrepreneurs, representatives of agricultural organizations and international bodies, bankers, and experts were present, it was stated that there was a renewed interest in agriculture. 'Since 2000, there has been more awareness of the need to support agriculture,’ stated Mamadou Cissokho, honorary president of the Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organizations of West Africa (Roppa). 'However, Africa has to recover from 25 years of structural adjustment policies and six severe droughts’ .
In fact, in 2003, in Maputo, Mozambique, African heads of state made the commitment to devote 10% of their national budgets to agriculture. This aspect of funding agriculture is crucial, according to Monty Jones: 'When our governments do not increase funds allocated to agriculture, it implies that the support comes from external donors. But the latter cannot provide their support over more than three or four years. Consequently, a decrease in their assistance results in a significant reduction in production. That is the case for Malawi and Niger,’, he explained. He went on to comment that, in his view, famine in several parts of Africa (especially in the Horn of Africa) is due above all to persistent neglect of the agricultural sector by governments. In Somalia and neighbouring regions severely affected by famine, statistics on agricultural development and investments are among the worst in Africa, for example only 1% of arable land is irrigated, compared with 7% for the whole continent .
In 2006, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) had been created and its council is chaired by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary-General. In 2008, 59 governments published a report written by 800 agronomists and other researchers: the IAASTD aimed at promoting an agronomy based on ecological processes as well as the support for food crops. But what kind of agricultural policy should be effectively carried out? Some NGOs consider that AGRA is supporting a technological solution, for example through the use of genetically-modified (GM) crops, which is promoted by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (the latter has invested €23 million into Monsanto’s research on GM crops). AGRA’s president, Namanga Ngongi, reacted by stating: 'We are working with conventional seeds, but these need to be improved. Also, the use of fertilizer is crucial: Africa uses, on average, 8 kg of fertilizer per hectare, which is very little; if this amount could be increased to 30 kg, this would change the face of agriculture’ .
Kofi Annan, interviewed by the French newspaper Le Monde, also stated that improved seeds should be supplied to farmers, that agroproducts should be transformed and brought to market, or be stored for long periods. The aim is to enable farmers to meet their own needs and to sell their surplus on the market. Kofi Annan quoted the example of Mali, where researchers have developed a sorghum variety with a yield of 4 tons per hectare instead of the average of 1 ton per hectare. The government is fully committed to transforming the country’s agriculture. A network of 150 stores supply seeds, fertilizers, and tools, and this saves the farmers travelling over long distances to buy the agricultural inputs they need. Kofi Annan considered that this combination of research, political will and good organization of the market should be extended, along with irrigation [28, 29].
Namanga Ngongi, AGRA’s president, has underlined that technological improvement was not the only factor in improving African agriculture; '…it is also necessary to reduce the costs of transactions, to better manage training and commercialization, to mobilize local banks; capital is not lacking, but rather experience and methods to lend money to the small farmer’. Many agronomists consider that a green revolution in Africa cannot be based on just technological improvements. Jacques Berthelot of the association Solidarité commented that 'The agricultural future of sub-Saharan Africa should be based on systems of agroecological production and agroforestry that do not need too many inputs.’ 'During Agro 2010, the big international congress of the European Society of Agronomy, almost all presentations were dealing with agroecology,’ confirmed Michel Griffon, deputy director of the French National Research Agency. Agroecology means the reliance on biological processes, the association of crops, trees, and livestock husbandry in agroforestry, the use of crop diversity in order to ensure better protection against pests and the development of organic fertilizers rather than chemical ones. In other words, agroecology does not just rely on the improvement of seeds and the use of fertilizers and pesticides .
This new approach to agricultural development has been supported by the CGIAR, which, for instance, highlighted the experience of the 'African vegetable garden’, developed in Benin and Niger. It combines drip irrigation, vegetable crops, fruit trees, and the communitary sharing of costs .
Kofi Annan insisted on a key factor: political will. As an example, he indicated that in 2010, 11 African governments were investing 10% or more of their national budgets into agriculture. He considered that this commitment was going to be made by an ever-increasing number of countries, who realize that it is not just about meeting food-security needs, but also to create jobs and slow down rural exodus. The change in policy of the World Bank could help the movement .
As an illustration of the top priority that should be given to agricultural development and food security, it is worth mentioning the appeal made in November 2010 by Denis Sassou N’ Guesso, president of the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville. In a country where oil contributes 90% of export revenues, agricultural activities have been neglected, while privileging a poorly diversified economy. Consequently, the Republic of Congo spent about 130 billion CFA francs (about €20 million) in 2010, that is the equivalent of all the salaries or wages paid by the state, to import the food and commodities needed to feed 4 million inhabitants .
This looks paradoxical because the country receives an abundant and regular rainfall, and has about 12 million hectares of arable land of which only 2% are exploited. Further to the appeal made by the Republic’s president to 'win the battle for food self-sufficiency’, the minister of agriculture and livestock husbandry stressed that the mindset should be changed while becoming aware of the wealth represented by agriculture. The latter should remain the top priority, had said the president . The country’s strategy is to support producers’ organizations, to enable landlocked production areas to have an easier access to markets, to organize commercialization networks and to set up infrastructures for transforming agricultural production, storing and conserving agrifood products. Such a policy aims to achieve three objectives: increase the volume of agricultural exports, improve food security and create new jobs, and income for rural populations. According to decision-makers, the development of the agricultural sector is compounded by archaic production structures and the lack of storage facilities and transport of agrifood products to consumption markets. In fact, food crops are cultivated by small farmers using obsolete techniques with low yields in periurban areas that are rapidly shrinking because of extensive urbanization .
In order to obtain the expected results, the state has set up, with the help of funding institutions like the World Bank, a range of incentive programmes such as the National Food Security Programme (PNSA). The latter, with a fund of €29 million, is being carried out in partnership with the FAO, and aims at intensifying the production of food crops in each village with the assistance of Vietnamese and Chinese technicians, rehabilitating rural roads, setting up commercialization and input-distribution bodies. Another development tool is the Project for Agricultural Development and Rehabilitation of Rural Roads (PDARR), which has received €14.5 million and intends to enable poor rural populations to draw more substantial income from their production through the supply of technological tools, the purchase of equipment and inputs at lower prices, and the building of market infrastructures .
The most emblematic development project is that of agricultural villages, the concept of which is inspired from that of the Israeli kibbutz. This programme has been launched by President Sassou N’ Guesso and it received €20 million. The programme is expected to significantly increase agropastoral production, for example 8 million eggs and 6 million cassava cuttings per year. Each village located in a region having competitive agroecological conditions will welcome 50 families. Every one of these families will have a house and a 2-hectare area of farmland. Collective infrastructures have also been planned: a library, a recreation area, a medical center, an electricity grid, a drinking-water supply system, and roads. 'The development of agricultural villages in Congo will shed a positive light on agriculture and is expected to reshape Congolese rural societies during the third millennium. The exploitation of the immense agricultural potential of the country is made possible by a state policy based on agricultural mechanization and the creation of a Fund for Supporting Agriculture (FSA),’ commented the minister of agriculture and livestock husbandry .
This Fund was created in 2008 by the state and it aims to support agropastoral production and fisheries, and to assist the commercialization, storage, and transformation of all relevant products. The programme supported by the Fund consists of strengthening the institutional framework, carrying out research for the development of the relevant sectors, as well as extension activities in order to disseminate agricultural technologies and to train technicians. One of the Fund’s priorities is to allocate more money to short-cycle crops such as vegetables, maize, and rice, as well as to poultry and swine husbandry. One of the successes of the Fund, with a budget of €6.7 million in 2011 (thus allowing the support of hundreds of projects), has been to involve banks that facilitate loans to farmers, especially to those who wanted to buy heavy equipment .
This strategy has drawn the attention of international agricultural companies that are settling in the Republic of Congo. Thus Congo Avenir, a partner of the South African AgriSA, acquired 80,000 hectares of farmland on 10 March 2011 further to an agreement signed with the Congolese government. This area will be devoted to larger-scale agropastoral activities. On the other hand, the Malaysian company Atama will develop oil-palm cultivation on 180,000 hectares with a view to producing 900,000 tons of palm-oil per year .
Fair trade and competition
But solving the problem of African agriculture does not depend on just technology and organization. According to Mamadou Cissokho, 'The agreements of the World Trade Organization have resulted in the elimination of tariff protection at the frontiers; African countries import up to 40% of their food, and they have neither a regional nor continental market. In order to be able to develop research and to build up regional markets, locally grown food crops need protection at the countries’ borders.’ This viewpoint is a major divergence with those who make a strong plea for the liberalization of trade. In addition, in Europe and the United States, farmers receive subsidies from their respective governments. In Africa, this should also be the case to help farmers overcome their difficulties and later become more competitive on regional and international markets .
As Western countries are reluctant to dismantle their trade barriers that protect their farmers against global competition, which led to the interruption in July 2006 of the WTO’s negotiations on liberalization of trade, African states want to set up or strengthen barriers to enter their own agricultural markets. Thus, since January 1, 2006, 15 countries that are part of the Economic Community of West African States (CEDEAO) have imposed a common external tariff of 5% to 20% on imports, the highest tariffs concerned food products, thus restoring a mechanism adopted in 2000 by the French-speaking countries of the region. However, this tariff remained very low because the CEDEAO member states made the commitment to open up their markets within the framework of negotiations with their creditors, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, on the alleviation of their debt. 'These countries, probably the weakest in the world, are also the most open: tariffs of 50% to 80% are imposed elsewhere,, deplored Henri Rouillé d’Orfeuil, president of the NGO network, Coordination Sud. But here and there, some countries have taken more drastic measures in order to defend their production, such as Kenya in the case of milk, with positive results for local production and commercialization .
Such initiatives are contrary to free trade promoted by the WTO, which aims to help African countries to export on world markets. But 'the real access to the markets we seek for, is the access to our own national and regional markets,’ stated Ndiogou Fall, president of Roppa, in December 2006. On these markets, locally produced commodities are confronted with the competition of low-cost imported products, for example rice produced in Senegal against Thai rice, or poultry against frozen chicken meat. African agriculture cannot compete with such imported products due to a number of handicaps, like weather vagaries, soil degradation, ineffective road networks, lack of a cold chain, and lack of access to information on markets. Many economists have concluded, therefore, that African agriculture needs some tariff protection in order to be able to develop and become gradually competitive. There is also a need to set up national or regional agricultural policies that entail the necessary investments, just as was done in the European Union .
Thus, within the framework of its unified agricultural policy, in March 2006, the West African economic and monetary union (UEMOA) created a regional agriculture development fund with a view to promoting and developing commodity chains from production to commercialization for rice, maize, poultry meat, and so on. Similarly, the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) had launched in 2003 a programme of agriculture development that needed investments of about US$251 billion, while public aid to development accounted to less than US$1 billion in 2004. The African Union, in December 2006, expressed its concerns regarding the slow progress in the implementation of the commitment made in 2003 by each member of the Union to devote at least 10% of its national budget to agriculture and rural development over 5 years .
In a wider framework, the countries of the region Africa-Carribbean-Pacific (ACP) had to negotiate a new trade agreement with the European Union, which wanted to revise the trade preferences granted to the ACP countries in order to align them with the rules of the WTO. This had to be achieved by the beginning of 2008. The 77 ACP countries, three-quarters of which are African countries, were concerned that such revision may change the rules of the game affording them the advantages indicated in the Lome and Cotonou agreements and concerning the export of their agricultural products: bananas, sugar, or cotton. Europeans stated that they were willing to maintain some preferential tariffs if they had an equivalent access to the ACP countries’ markets; in this case, the exports were mainly industrial goods and services. The revision of the agreements was necessary because the preferential tariffs granted exceptionally by the WTO were to expire in 2008; beyond this date, it would be illegal to maintain them, and they could be the target of an attack by competitors of ACP countries, such as Latin American ones. They had already done so regarding bananas: a number of Latin American countries are big producers and exporters of bananas; a tariff is imposed on the fruits imported by the European Union countries, whereas this is not the case for bananas imported from Africa or the French Antilles .
Protection of African farmers
An African green revolution cannot do away with the economic and political aspects mentioned above. Subsidizing African farmers and protecting them from the dumping of imported low-cost food and agricultural products are considered of crucial importance by many economists and NGOs. Thus, Bernard Njonga, in 2003, created the Citizen Association for the Defence of Collective Interests (ACDIC, Association Citoyenne de Défense des Intérêts Collectifs) in order to struggle against the imports of chickens and poultry meat. In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, he stated: 'Our domestic markets, after having been flooded by European products, are now flooded by those coming from South-East Asia and Latin America. In Cameroon, for instance, rice, tomatoes, onions, and maize are imported, while they can be grown locally. All local production structures have been progressively abandoned. Farmers, who represent 60% of active population, are weakened, unemployment rises, and young people migrate to the cities; it is the reverse of development.’ In 2004, he launched with ACDIC a 'war’ against the imports of frozen chicken from Europe. These imports were threatening Cameroon’s producers and were jeopardizing the national economy, as well as the health of populations. The role of ACDIC is to support and advise the organizations of producers, in order to design their production strategies. ACDIC also helps define a national agricultural policy. In 2006, ACDIC launched a campaign on food sovereignty and collected the written support of citizens for subsidies to farmers. Not only did the producers follow the NGO, but consumers did too. It was thanks to the participation of the consumers in the battle against imported frozen chicken that the latter was won .
Another example of assistance to the farmers as a key to agricultural development and overall economic growth is that of Mozambique. Despite an annual GDP growth of between 8% and 13% over 10 years (except in 2000 because of catastrophic floods), Mozambique remains one of the poorest countries of the world, with 54% of its population, mainly rural, living on less than US$1 per day. President Guebuza, elected in 2004, as well as the main donors of aid, was convinced that after 20 years of structural adjustment and opening to foreign industrial investments, priority had to be given to activities and job creation in the rural environment. Access to land should remain easy for farmers, but they must also have access to local markets thanks to good roads and to loans, as well as to training and technologies that will raise production. They ought to be protected against climate risks. There were some experts who made a strong plea in favour of land privatization because this will attract investments from agroindustrial groups. Others consider that such privatization would benefit only the social and economic leadership, who could purchase the land; banks would not like to have lands as a guarantee and become landlords in case the owner went bankrupt. Therefore the risk of having idle lands would become real. They consider that, instead of privatizing land, farmers’ work should be organized and facilitated through all kinds of assistance, as mentioned above .