Create regional food markets, Africa urged

Ms Alice Nyambura sells her produce at Kenyas Wakulima Market in Nakuru
Ms Alice Nyambura sells her produce at Kenya's Wakulima Market in Nakuru on November 28, 2012. An international conference in Rome has urged the region to increase food trade within itself.  SULEIMAN MBATIAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP

African governments have been challenged to buy their food from within the continent to cut on costs and curb hunger.

Prof Alexandros Sarris, the Global Development Network Project Senior Advisor, regretted that African countries had not fully utilised regional integration blocs as a source of imports.

The continent, he told an international conference, had also not fully worked to benefit from regional integration.

"Only five per cent of food imports are sourced from other countries in Africa yet the continent is a net food importer. Governments, despite lip service, are doing everything in their capacity not to create regional markets. There could be zero tariffs but many non-tariff barriers," Prof Sarris said.

If half of the more than $50 billion of goods procured in Africa annually could be from within, he said, the continent would register huge growth.

He said the transaction cost of doing business in Africa is huge due to non-tariff barriers like roadblocks.

Prof Sarris, from the University of Athens in Greece, told the Food and Agricultural Organisation workshop in Rome that Africa needs a revolution in production to increase yields.

Lower yields

He said yields produced in Africa were less compared to other region due to less use of inputs. "Farmers are however willing to use fertiliser if its profitable. Most farmers in Africa do not use fertiliser or because of lack of money or access to credit," Prof Sarris said.

The conference, "Supporting Policy Research to Inform Agricultural Policy in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia", was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It was organised in partnership with the Agricultural and Development Economics Division, FAO, Rome.

The GDN project is an attempt to bring forth policy issues that are relevant to the regions.

Prof Sarris cited "plenty" of unused technology, risks management and market development as challenges facing agriculture in Africa.

FAO’s assistant director-general in-charge of Fisheries and Aquaculture Arni Mathiesen said appropriate agricultural policies are increasingly recognised as essential to sustainable economic growth, poverty reduction and food security.

Policy

"The initiative of GDN to bring the regional voices and perspectives to bear on the assessment of policies and the policy debate on their own regions is most welcome," Mr Mathiesen said.

Prof David Zilberman, GDN Project Senior Advisor from the University of Carlifornia, Berkeley called for economic literacy and policies that enhance efficiency, access to credit and gender equality to boost agriculture in Africa.

Ghanaian MP Ahmed Yakubu Alhassan said sub-Saharan Africa countries should be assisted to invest in agriculture.

GDN Project Team Leader, Saa Dittoh from University of Development Studies in Ghana regretted that agriculture research done in Africa is not transformed into policy and implemented.

GDN Project Director and Chief Economist George Mavrotas said agriculture is crucial in Africa to be neglected.

"Africa has become a net importer of food from net exporter," Dr Mavrotas said.

GDN Project Team Leader, Indian Institute of Management, Prof Vijay Paul Sharma said dependency on agriculture in South Asia is still high despite reduction in share of agriculture in GDP.

Bioversity International director general Emile Frison called for nutrition sensitive agriculture.


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