ARUSHA, Tanzania, September 28, 2012- During the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Tanzania Thursday, Melinda Gates emphasized the need for targeted agricultural research investments to improve the productivity of African farmers, most of which are women.
“The average Tanzanian farmer doesn’t think about the priorities of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture,” according to her released remarks. “But if she wants to sell enough cassava to send her child to school, then she’s depending on cutting-edge cassava research to fight brown streak and mosaic disease.”
“If the agricultural research community is under-investing in cassava, then it has failed to respond to farmers’ needs,” Gates continued. “Making sure the crops she wants to plant are the same crops we’re working on in our labs is one example of how we can put the farmer at the center of our agenda—even when we’re at a UN meeting in Rome.”
Gates made her remarks at the AGRF meeting, which gathers to identify private sector investment and policy support needed to increase agricultural productivity and income growth for the African agricultural sector. AGRF 2012, from September 26-28 in Arusha, Tanzania, is intended to continue the global dialogue that began with the World Economic Forum on Africa and the G8.
President of the United Republic of Tanzania, H.E. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, hosted the meeting and emphasized that agriculture is the “life blood” of the economies of African countries. It employs between 70-80 percent of the people on the continent, but “unfortunately, Africa’s agriculture remains backward and primitive.”
He said Africa’s agriculture is characterized by low productivity and production due to limited application of modern science and technology.
“We must scale up investment and innovation in agriculture,” he said. “If we cannot do that all efforts to transform agriculture will be an exercise in futility.”
“Furthermore, donor support to agriculture in Africa has declined from 18 billion dollars twenty years ago to 3 billion dollars three years ago before increasing to the current level of 6 billion dollars,” he added.
However, he said the support of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) helped to reduce post-harvest losses from 30 percent to 15 percent in the Kilombero District and there is evidence that productivity of smallholder farms is increasing.
“In Kilombero District, Morogoro Region, for example, the yields for maize have recently increased for smallholder farmers from 1.5 tons per hectare to 4.5 tons per hectare; the yields for rice have increased from 2.5 tons per hectare to an average of 6.5 tons per hectare,” he said. “Overall, we have now attained 95 percent food self-sufficiency.”
Opening the forum, Kofi Annan, Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) also stressed the importance of empowering smallholder farmers.
“Our focus on improving the productivity and profitability of smallholder farmers – most of whom are women – cannot waver. They are the ones who put food on our tables. They are the ones who care for our land and water resources,” Annan said. “In the end, they will be the ones to propel the economic growth and development of Africa in the 21st century.”
Gates, who began the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband 15 years ago, said they made their first agricultural investment in AGRA eight years later.
“The goal for us with AGRA was to get much closer to the people we wanted the help,” she added.
“I want to be candid. It is a huge challenge for us at the Gates Foundation to stay in touch with what farmers really want,” she said, which is why their goal is to focus on women farmers and to seek help from partners close to farmers on the ground in Africa.
“We will continue to rely on the expertise of all of you in this room,” she told the heads of state, ministers and private sector representatives at AGRF.
“I urge you to set an agenda for the next decade that is even more ambitious,” Gates said.
Kikwete stressed in his speech that private sector involvement will make huge impacts on agricultural productivity investments.
“Private entrepreneurs can engage in large scale farming, supply of agricultural inputs and farm implements,” he said. “The private sector can provide credit to farmers and ready market for their produce. The private sector can engage in agro-processing to add value.”
He noted that in the last G8 summit in May, members pledged to support the Grow Africa Partnership, which caused several private international companies to express interest in agricultural development in Africa.
“On its part the government will continue with its facilitative and enabling role,” he added, noting that agriculture is a top priority for most African governments. For example, the Maputo Declaration on Food Security in 2003 committed African countries to allocate 10 percent of their national budgets to agricultural development.
“We are poised to succeed in our quest for eradicating hunger and poverty in Africa through transforming agriculture,” Kikwete said, noting that more than half of the population in Sub Sahara Africa lives on less than 2 dollars a day and over 239 million people are food insecure.
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