They used force to conquer territories in the colonial days. Now, they are using negotiation to obtain large tracts of land to do farming in Africa. But, hold on a minute: how well fed are African people that they can rent out productive land in countries like Ethiopia to middle-income countries to cushion them against the anticipated food deficit and fluctuations in the global food market?
Per Pinstrup-Anderson, a professor of food, nutrition and Public Policy at Cornell University in the United States was categorical: “Stop giving away your land and support your small-holder farmers”.
If a country cannot invest in agricultural research, and the provision of public goods such as roads and functioning markets, hunger and malnutrition, with severe health consequences, will still be room-mates of smallholder farmers in Africa.
Woe for Africa! Most farmers there cannot access technologies that have been tested and shown to match their situation. Their soils are fast being depleted of nutrients. They lack post-harvest technologies for safe storage and safe transportation to markets.
And, without the right policy framework, efforts aimed at bringing experts together to address the challenges to linking agriculture to nutrition and health may be just a mirage. Without such a framework it will not be possible to do what this conference aims to do: leverage the three for the good of the poor in developing countries according to Pinstrup-Anderson.
Shockingly, the developing world is still stuck with a paradigm employed in the 1950s in Asia, which emphasised increased production. Governments must wake up to this: small scale farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa need infrastructure and farming technologies that would make them produce more on an existing piece of land. They need irrigation technologies, better seeds and nitrogen fixing methods to make soils richer in nutrients.
“Invest in agricultural research and collaborate with other leading institutions like the CGIAR to address people’s needs,” said Pinstrup-Anderson.
Ochieng’ Ogodo, Sub-Saharan Africa News Editor, SciDev.Net