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Africa could feed itself, and the world
October 29, 2017, 1:23 pm

In the wake of riots that broke out in Mali following global food price increases in 2008, the government quickly stepped in and launched an initiative to subsidize good-quality rice seeds and fertilizers for farmers in order to cut reliance on rice imports and grow more food of its own.

In just two years, the country was producing enough grain for domestic consumption, and today is a rice exporter, said Bourema Dembele, former director of research at Mali's Institut d'Economie Rurale, a government institution.

Rice production in Mali grew from just 900,000 tonnes in 2008 — below the domestic consumption of 1.1 million tonnes — to 2.7 million tonnes in 2016, thanks in part to government subsidies of 35 billion CFA francs ($64 million). Rice production is now double the country's annual consumption.

In addition to rice, overall food production, including in cereal crops such as sorghum, millet, groundnuts, cowpeas and maize, also increased over the same period from 3.6 million tonnes to 8.7 million tonnes, making the country largely self-sufficient in food.

Besides subsidizing seed and other farming needs, Mali's government in 2015 began buying 1,000 new tractors every year to sell to farmers at half price. Farmers are required to make a down-payment of just 20 percent and can take out loans from commercial banks for the remaining sum. Poorer or very small-scale farmers also are eligible to buy tractors if they group together to cultivate at least 50 hectares of land with the equipment.

To support the effort, Mali's government has allocated at least 15 percent of the national budget to agriculture, surpassing a target of 10 percent agreed to at the 2003 African Union Summit as part of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program.

Apart from Mali, African countries that have had significant success moving towards food self-sufficiency include Ethiopia, Rwanda and Burkina Faso.

Africa has the resources, including human capacity, arable land and requisite skills, to move from importer to exporter of food," said Mr. Dembele who now works with the Alliance for a Green Revolution Africa (AGRA), a nongovernmental organization.

Policies similar to that initiated in Mali need to be replicated around Africa if the continent is to cope with a burgeoning population and climate change while improving food security and economic growth, African experts say.

According to the Africa Agriculture Status Report 2017, if most African governments moved as aggressively as Mali's, the continent could not only feed itself but also export the surplus and meet the growing demand from affluent city dwellers for high-value processed foods.

"When we invest in production, we create a market for seed and fertilizer companies which are investment and business opportunities. When we produce in plenty, we create further opportunities for processors, and when we process enough, we further create opportunities for transporters and sellers," Mr. Dembele added.

The Africa Agriculture Status Report suggests that more productive farming could be Africa's ‘quiet revolution’, creating jobs and sustainable economic growth that has largely failed to materialize from mineral extraction and increased urbanization.

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