Why isn’t agriculture a public good?

Policymakers must ensure people are fed now to avoid health problems later

Surely it is, I hear you cry. No it isn’t, according to AGRA president Namanga Ngongi.

“Policymakers will tell you agriculture is a private sector affair and should not be supported by the government. But we don’t say that about other areas like health and education, ” he told a media briefing.

“Everybody needs to eat,” Ngongi said, looking as shocked as the rest of us that such common sense has seemingly eluded policymakers.

“To meet MDG1 [Millennium Development Goal 1], policies must change,” he warned. “In my view there is no reason why food and nutrition security shouldn’t be considered a public good. Everyone needs to be in good nutritional shape – just like everyone needs an education and needs to be healthy.”

Ngongi is rightly bemused that health is considered a public good when nutrition – critical to good health – isn’t. Hartmann, director of the IITA, appeared equally puzzled by the flawed logic.

“How could we not know agriculture is a frontline of health? If we start early on by ensuring good nutrition, we’ll do a lot for health in general. We have spent so much money fixing things at the end whereas with the same money we could have invested in nutrition and solved a lot of problems.”

Ngongi said: “If the international community prioritises agriculture in the same way it prioritises education and health, then policies will start to change.” Currently, most developing countries are not held to an international standard for food and nutritional security.

He highlighted countries such as Malawi, Rwanda and Tanzania, where the situation started to change when leaders declared food security as a priority.

It’s time for the rest of the continent to follow suit.

Naomi Antony
Assistant news editor, SciDev.Net

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