Report more positive about agricultural development in Southern Africa

Trends in the long-term prospects for agricultural development in most of Southern Africa are positive, with the exception of Zimbabwe, a new report predicts.

"Most of Southern Africa, particularly the republic of South Africa, has implemented the kind of macroeconomic reforms" that had enabled governments to spend more on agricultural reforms and research, said Mark Rosegrant, division director of environment and production technology at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and lead author of the report.

But Rosegrant noted that the region also had one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world, giving cause for concern.

The UN has also emphasised the "triple threat" of HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and weakened state capacity as a trigger of humanitarian crises.

The report, 'Looking Ahead: Long-Term Prospects for Africa's Agricultural Development and Food Security', does not paint a rosy picture for rest of Africa. It projects that child malnutrition will escalate over the next two decades, and the continent will fail to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of cutting child malnutrition in half by 2015 unless more aggressive measures are taken now.

"Child malnutrition is on the rise in Africa. By 2025, hunger could be a daily reality for nearly 42 million children," said Joachim von Braun, director-general of IFPRI. "But it doesn't have to be this way - with significant changes in policy and investment priorities, starting now, Africa could sharply reduce child malnutrition and come close to achieving the Millennium Development Goal on time."

Southern Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to have the smallest increase in malnourishment, from four million malnourished children in 1997 to 5.9 million in 2025.

The report hopes to provide options to African policymakers and the international donor community when they gather at the Millennium+5 Summit in New York next month to assess progress on the MDGs.

"When the UN member countries meet on September 14, they have the opportunity to make good on the promises made five years ago. They need to decide if they are serious about fulfilling these promises; if they are serious, they need to accelerate the pace of change in Africa," noted Rosegrant.

Poor governance, inadequate infrastructure, limited access to markets, and low investment in agriculture were contributing to the underperformance of Africa's agricultural sector, he observed.

According to a "vision scenario" proposed in the report, sound policies and increased investment could strengthen food security and reduce child malnutrition significantly, bringing it down to four percent in Southern sub-Saharan Africa.

Investment in rural roads and information and communication technologies could improve market efficiency and farmers' productivity, while innovative crop, land, and water management practices would encourage more sustainable agricultural production.

Trade liberlisation would see reduced subsidies to farmers in the developed world, while aid promised by the G8 could help the agricultural sector in Africa, said Rosegrant.

The G8 has agreed to increase annual development aid to Africa by US $25 billion by 2010, more than double the 2004 level. Global annual development aid - currently around $50 billion - would increase by $50 billion by 2010.

"Our findings reveal that an additional $4.7 billion per year in investments ... along with appropriate policy changes, would enable Africa to confront child malnutrition as effectively as the rest of the developing world," Rosegrant noted.

The projections were prepared using state-of-the-art computer modelling. An integrated water-food model to assess current and future water resource availability in Africa was also included.