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Africa is squandering its potential

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh
Photo: Gambian President Yahya Jammeh sits in his office during a news conference in Banjul

London, 7 December 2016 – Africa is a world leader in poverty and hunger due to a lack of committed leadership and rampant corruption, said Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in his address at the House of Lords today.

Although rich in minerals, gas and oil, and with abundant sunshine and fertile soil, 23 of the 25 poorest countries in the world are in Africa, and 389 million of its people live in extreme poverty. It is the only region in the world where absolute poverty has increased since 1990.

“Sub-Saharan Africa has 25 per cent of the world’s arable land but generates only ten per cent of its agricultural output,” Nwanze told the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development. “Why is this? Lack of leadership, lack of national pride and a blind eye to greed and corruption.”

Winner of this year’s inaugural Africa Food Prize for his support of smallholder farming on the continent and outspokenness in reminding African leaders to stop talking about change and deliver it, Nwanze said that Africa’s leaders are failing the continent due to their lack of investment in smallholder agriculture.

With the majority of the African poor living in rural areas and earning an income from small family farms, investing in agriculture is essential for combating poverty, said Nwanze. 80 percent of Africa’s agricultural land is ten hectares or less, making smallholder farmers the largest private sector group in African agriculture.

African farmers lose 20 to 40 per cent of their harvest to pests, diseases and spoilage because of lack of infrastructure. These crops could provide minimum food requirements for at least 48 million people.

“The continent spends US$35 million on food imports a year.

If this money was invested in developing smallholder farming and rural infrastructure, Africa could feed itself,” said Nwanze. “But change does not just happen. It must be made to happen.”

The future of food and agriculture lies in the hands of young people, Nwanze said. In the next 15 years, 330 million young people will enter the labour market in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in rural areas. Nwanze stressed that it is not only conflict that causes people to migrate, but also hunger, poverty and lack of opportunity. If people are not given the opportunity to earn a decent income and feed their families, they will move to urban areas and beyond, threatening food security and international stability.

“By investing in rural economies, we can create a range of opportunities for Africa’s young people so they are not forced to migrate and can see a future for themselves in rural areas of their own countries,” he said.

He told the group that giving handouts to rural people in developing countries builds a culture of dependence. Instead, investments should provide economic opportunities.

The United Kingdom is a founding member of IFAD and shares it’s objective of combating extreme poverty and hunger in the world’s poorest countries. It has contributed more than $730 million to IFAD’s investments in smallholder farming and rural development in developing countries.

Last year, the largest share of new IFAD financing went to sub-Saharan Africa and ongoing investments in Africa have more than doubled – from US$1.3 billion in 2009 to US$2.7 billion in 2015 – benefitting some 75 million people.

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