Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A call to cooperate on African food security

The president of Malawi is pledging to put together a regional advisory council on food security. He plans on inviting other African heads of state to foster more cooperation on improving agriculture. President Bingu wa Mutharika leads a very successful program for his own country, and hopes to use that program as a blueprint.

From the Guardian, writer Liz Ford relayed the interview with Mutharika.

Speaking ahead of the World Economic Forum on Africa, which begins in Tanzania tomorrow, Bingu wa Mutharika said he planned to work with other African leaders to devise a programme on food security that was sustainable "regardless of who is looking at it", and set up what he called an African compact on food security to act as an independent advisory body to the African Union (AU) on agriculture and food issues.

In an interview with Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, CEO of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and chairman of the Farming First coalition, Mutharika said he would chair the compact for the next five years.

"I'll invite about eight, nine heads of states that are committed to this [food security] programme and I'll invite international organisations, the Africa Development Bank, the World Bank, the European Union... and some of the countries in the G8, and say here's a programme, here's what we want to do, and sustain this within the context of the African green revolution," said the president.

Five years ago Malawi took steps to improve the livelihoods of its farmers through a Farm Input Subsidy Programme. Under the programme farmers were given seeds, fertiliser and advice on sowing techniques. Within two years the country went from being reliant on food aid to becoming a net exporter of maize. Although not without its critics, the programme won praise from the international community.

"We fed Malawi in less than two years," said Mutharika.

He added: "In many African countries we are being fed by very small, small farmers.... An then the question was how do we get these farmers to produce beyond subsistence and what are the challenges?"

He believes a package of "inputs" - improved seed varieties, fertilizers, access to extension services and markets – was required. "Indeed we did that five years ago and found the response to be absolutely tremendous. We were able to get people who previously could only produce three or four bags of maize or about 50kg a year, for instance, are now able to produce 15, 20, 25 [bags]. These people can go beyond subsistence, can feed themselves and also feed the nation."

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