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Africa Can Produce Enough Food To Feed Itself, Study Says

Africa is capable of producing enough food to feed itself within a single generation, according to “a study released to coincide with a meeting of several African leaders in Tanzania on Thursday, as well as U.N. talks on slowing climate change in Cancun, Mexico,” Reuters reports (Doyle, 12/2).

“Currently a net food importer, Africa has the potential to become a food exporter through a combination of modern technology, improved infrastructure and better technical education, according to the study,” CNN writes. Reforming the continent’s agriculture industry will require the focus to be shifted from exporting raw materials to developing food production, according to lead study author Calestous Juma, a professor of international development at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (Tutton, 12/2).

Juma said that in recent decades, food production worldwide has increased, while it has remained stagnant in many parts of Africa even though the continent has “abundant” land and labor resources, the BBC reports. “He estimates that while food production has grown globally by 145% over the past 40 years, African food production has fallen by 10% since 1960, which he attributes to low investment. While 70% of Africans may be engaged in farming, those who are undernourished on the continent has risen by 100 million to 250 million since 1990, he estimates,” the news service writes (Bowdler, 12/2).

Juma “told Reuters that food self-sufficiency would require big shifts in policies that have led to dependence on food aid handouts and imports in many nations,” according to the news service. The study calls “for more involvement by national leaders in solving problems in sectors such as water, energy, transport, communications and education,” Reuters writes. Juma pointed out that an army might refuse to build a new road for food distribution if asked by an agriculture minister. “But if the president asks they will do it. The president is the commander in chief,” he said. Juma acknowledged, “Climate change makes it more difficult.” He added that research into new crop varieties could help (12/2).

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete will launch the study “at a retreat of East African Community (EAC) Heads of State in Arusha, Tanzania,” where he “will chair a discussion with Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi, Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, on policies and strategies to address persistent food insecurity in the East Africa in light of climate change,” according to a Harvard press release. “Preliminary results of the study, financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, were adopted earlier this year by the 19-member Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the continent’s largest trading bloc,” the release adds (12/2).

Climate Change, Other Factors Worsen Food Security Outlook, Report Says

“Surging prices for staple foods in 2008 and 2010 may be just a foretaste of the future as the impacts of climate change and population growth combine, a report issued at the U.N. talks in Cancun said Wednesday,” Agence France-Presse reports.

The report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) predicted that between this year and 2050 corn prices could increase 42 percent -131 percent, rice costs could rise by 11 percent – 78 percent, while the cost of wheat could increase by 17 percent – 67 percent. “These prices are dependent on a range of 15 scenarios whose factors are the state of the global economy, population growth and changes in rainfall and global temperatures, the think-tank said,” AFP writes. “Climate change will cause lower rice yields all over the world in 2050, compared to a future without climate change,” IFPRI said in a statement (Ingham, 12/1).

At the summit in Cancun, report co-author Gerald Nelson said climate change intensifies existing pressures on food prices, such as an expanding world population and more prosperity in the developing world, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. “Climate change is a threat multiplier of the challenge facing us,” he said. “In the context of food security, climate change represents about 20 percent of the larger challenges of food security facing us caused by higher population and income growth in the developing world,” Nelson added (Morales, 12/1).

Researchers said dealing with poverty “is the single best way to help poor people in developing countries achieve food security and adapt to climate change,” according to an IFPRI press release. “The study highlights poverty for three reasons. First, because the bigger consumers’ incomes, the greater their ability to afford higher food prices caused in part by climate change. Second, better-off families cope more easily with uncertainty. And third, farming families with higher incomes are better positioned to invest in new technologies that might be costly at the outset but improve productivity and resilience in the long run,” the release notes (12/1).

Reuters Examines Public-Private Collaborations On African Agriculture, Food Production

“Africa as has long been a target for wealthy philanthropists who donate money in a fight against the continent’s poverty, disease epidemics and food shortages. Now, taking a cue from the nonprofit world, profit-hungry investors are eying Africa in a new way, putting a charitable spin on their pursuit of double-digit returns,” Reuters writes in a story examining how investors and nonprofits are working together to develop African agriculture.

The article describes the “‘TransFarm Africa Transformation Fund (TFA Fund),’ a private equity investment vehicle aiming for 15 percent returns by investing in ‘growth-oriented, mid-scale commercial farms and agri-businesses whose business models incorporate small farmers and small and medium-sized agricultural enterprises.’” But, Reuters writes, “TransFarm is only one example of many ‘impact investing’ groups targeting Africa now. The new breed hopes to avoid the stigma and opposition associated with land grabbing by partnering with local business development groups.”

Africa is an “emerging priority” for the U.S. government, according to Ann Tutwiler, coordinator for global food security at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who also said the government wants to encourage private investment in African food and agriculture projects. Though the U.S. government and foundations have several programs aimed at expanding food production on the continent, Tutwiler said private investment is essential. “Even with the amount of money the U.S. government and the other donors are putting in … it is small potatoes compared to the level of investment we need,” she said (Gillam, 12/2).

News Outlets Examine Different Perspectives Over Use Of African Farmland For Biofuels

“Proponents of biofuel crops in rural Africa say they will help fight climate change, meet Africa’s own chronic energy shortages and give badly needed income from under-used farmland; critics say they take food out of hungry mouths by turning arable land over to feed cars, stoking tension with communities,” Reuters writes in an article examining the dispute over the use of farmland for biofuels in Africa.

“A study by Friends of the Earth in August said biofuel demand was driving a new ‘land grab’ in Africa, with at least 5 million hectares (19,300 sq miles) acquired by foreign firms to grow crops in 11 countries it had studied,” the news service writes. “It’s doubtful that Africans will see any benefits. There’s very little involvement from local communities or farmers,” according to Greenpeace Africa director Olivia Langhoff. “Some of those who complain, it’s out of ignorance,” said Aminata Kamara, social affairs manager for Addax Bioenergy, a company that purchased land for biofuel crops in Sierra Leone. The article reports on how local farmers have responded to the deal and explains Addax’s goals (Akam, 11/30).

Inter Press Service also looks at the food versus biofuels debate, focusing on a situation in Swaziland. “A U.K.-based company called D1 Oils signed contracts with the farmers to grow jatropha for them. An initial agreement with the government planned to put 20,000 hectares into biofuels production, possibly expanding to 50,000. … D1 Oils pulled out of the project before it properly took off because, according to the company’s CEO in Swaziland, Gaetan Ning, the Swazi government was unwilling to support the project with necessary legislation.”

The article looks at how the situation has affected local farmers and includes feedback from Thuli Makama, the director of Friends of the Earth Swaziland, and Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss of the NGO GRAIN, which “supports biodiverse, community-based food systems.” Gcina Dladla, spokesperson for the Swaziland Environment Authority and environmental consultant Rex Brown are also quoted (Phakathi, 12/2).