Subsistence agriculture must be abolished if African countries want to eradicate hunger by 2025, the former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told a meeting in Addis Ababa two weeks ago.
In a rousing speech to open a conference of African ministers and international leaders, Lula said Africa could end hunger if there was enough political will to embed the needs of poor people in national policy.
“It’s necessary for us to put in the minds and hearts of people to produce ... [and] have access to technology and modern machinery to increase their productivity. Brazil overcame this idea that citizens only grow for their subsistence. They have to have excess to sell,” he told the conference at the African Union.
Drawing on Brazil’s Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) program, Lula said his country’s successes could be repeated elsewhere. However, to do this, poor people must be included in national budget plans and their needs seen as investments rather than an extra state expense.
“It is possible and it is within our reach to eradicate hunger in Brazil and in African countries and any other place in the world,” he said. “[Tackling poverty] should become government policy, it should not be ad-hoc policy or something for electoral campaigns.”
“Economists will not include the poor in budgets because it takes a while to give a return on the investment, but there is no other way to have poverty relief if we don’t include the poor [in policy],” he said.
Under his eight-year presidency, Brazil’s economy grew at an average annual rate of 5 percent, poverty levels dropped — more than 20 million Brazilians have come out of extreme poverty since 2003 — and 20 million jobs were created. Smallholder farmers were supported with seeds and credit lines, and 50 million people benefited from the cash transfer scheme Bolsa Familia.
Lula said it is because people know what is possible that riots have erupted across Brazil in the past few weeks.
Jose Graziano da Silva, Lula’s former colleague in government and now director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told delegates: “We must look beyond the simple increase in food production. Producing more is very important, but it is not enough. We need to address the many issues that keep people from being food secure, including lack of access to food.”
“Investing in agriculture remains the single most effective way to provide opportunities for families and improve nutrition. We also need to strengthen social protection methods,” he said.
The conference was convened by the FAO, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the Lula Institute under the banner: “Toward African renaissance: renewed partnership for a unified approach to end hunger in Africa by 2025.”
It concluded with a declaration apparently designed to get greater political commitment to improve agricultural productivity and address underlying social factors that contribute to poor nutrition, such as lack of access to healthcare and credit. The declaration will reaffirm government commitments, including the 2003 Maputo declaration and encourage more partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society. It aims to complement, and renew commitment to, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) to improve food security, which came out of the Maputo declaration.
In the decade since it was introduced, the two key strands of the CAADP — that African governments commit 10 percent of their budgets to investment in agriculture and increase productivity by 6 percent — have been achieved by only 10 countries.
Underpinning the conference declaration is a roadmap to achieving the 2025 target. It includes cutting the need for food aid within 10 years, eliminating stunting among children under five, doubling productivity of staple crops within five to 10 years, and contributing to the African trust fund for food security, launched at an FAO conference in Brazzaville last year.
However, as one delegate from Guinea said, the timeframe to increase crop yields and cut reliance on food aid is too long if hunger is to be eradicated by 2025.
Contributions to the trust fund, which is administered by the FAO and will support efforts by African leaders to meet their CAADP commitments, proved a contentious issue. Despite some African countries agreeing to contribute millions of dollars to the fund, which is supposed to be a catalyst for investment from the private sector, several agriculture ministers said it was tough enough trying to get money for their departments to meet the CAADP target, without having to ask their finance ministers for more.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Zambian Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Robert Sichinga said. “We have sufficient funding requirements already ... the fund should not be seen as a viable proposition at this stage.”
Sichinga questioned where African governments were going to find money for the fund when there was already a shortfall for agricultural program and said the mechanisms through which the fund distributes money were unclear.
However, there are reasons to be optimistic about Africa’s prospects.
Many delegates said they believed that years of continued economic growth had increased confidence among leaders that, with a concentrated effort, hunger and malnutrition could be ended.