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Africa's current affairs: Agriculture, science and technology
Downtown Marriott Hotel, Des Moines IA
15 October 2007 - 19 October 2007
The Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa, The African Ambassadors’ Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD)


Symposium

African Diplomats Urge More Support for Africa's Agriculture, Science & Technology
Source: Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa
Des Moines, Iowa

Press statement, 19 October 2007

Three African ambassadors to the United States, H.E. Amadou Ba of Senegal, H.E. Keerteecoomar Ruhee of Mauritius and H.E. Hawa Ndilowe of Malawi, and Mamadou Diarrah, First Secretary Embassy of Mali, as well as two African policy and business leaders, Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda, CEO of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network representing twelve countries in southern Africa and Michael Kijjambu, Ugandan coffee businessman featured in the award-winning documentary "Africa Open for Business," visited farms and agro-industries in Des Moines, Iowa and participated in various activities around the 2007 World Food Prize ceremonies honoring Dr. Norman Borlaug and the 2007 World Food Prize Laureate Dr. Phillip Nelson, whose innovative work has reduced spoilage in large-scale storage and transportation of fresh foods. At the Borlaug symposium focused this year on "Biofuels and Biofoods: The Global Challenges of Emerging Technologies," the African delegation discussed the potential as well as the challenges of emerging technologies with respect to Africa's development.

Africa still faces persistent and increasing hunger and poverty, and the critical challenge of feeding a rapidly growing population with diminishing arable land and natural resources. With three out of every four Africans living in rural areas and largely depending on agriculture for their livelihood, there is an urgent need to utilize emerging technological innovations to improve farm productivity and rural incomes. It is true that past economic breakthroughs in most countries, including in Asia, were achieved through sustained policy support and investments in agriculture, science and technology, infrastructure and market development, and strengthened human and institutional capacities. Without similar and sustained efforts, it is unrealistic to expect Africa to grow its economies and produce sufficient and high-valued agricultural products to feed its people and to sell locally and abroad.

Africa's vast arable lands have a potential to supply biofuels to a world seeking cleaner, renewable energy sources. But using land reserved for food production to meet biofuel demand could squeeze food supplies in a region vulnerable to shortages. It could also hurt poor consumers if the biofuel boom continues to push food prices higher as most African countries are net importers of food. As alternative energy takes off, Africans may cash in on the high prices of the commodities used to produce these fuels. But a more detailed assessment of the potential impact on food importing countries would be needed.

"Africa stands at a crucial turning point in its development," said Ambassador Ruhee, citing the high economic growth - the best in decades - experienced by many African countries over the last five years or so. Prudent government efforts have significantly improved Africa's political and economic landscape and resulted in better business climate, new investment opportunities and greater economic growth. The recently released World Bank's Doing Business 2008 report cites significant improvements in the investment climate in Africa. To enhance these achievements, it is clear that Africa needs to attract more investments in agriculture, science, technology and infrastructure and better institutions, particularly in higher education and research. The dynamic participation of the private sector, integration of farmers and agribusinesses to agriculture value chains and implementation of policies that enhance rural entrepreneurship will result in a quantum leap in productivity and accelerated economic growth.

The African diplomats urged developed countries and donors to increase their support and collaboration in strengthening Africa's capacity to gain from biofuels and other new innovations needed to improve food and income security, especially through agro-processing and value-added agriculture. According to Ambassadors Ba and Ndilowe, "the time to invest in Africa is now," as new opportunities arise and investment risks are reduced. The U.S., the World Bank, and other donors now have the opportunity to significantly scale up the level and amplify the effectiveness of their assistance by supporting identified African-led development priorities spelled out by the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). "While challenges remain," said Dr. Sibanda, "governments are paying more attention to agriculture and striving to create a conducive environment for investment and growth." Africa's private sector, as the key driver of future economic change, must be strengthened to create further opportunities for greater economic growth, according to Mr. Kijjambu.

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