African farmers can potentially grow enough food to feed the continent and avert future food crises if countries remove cross-border restrictions on the food trade within the region, a new World Bank report has said.
According to the bank, the continent will also generate an extra $20 billion in yearly earnings if African leaders can agree to dismantle trade barriers that blunt more regional dynamism.
The report was released on the eve of an African Union (AU) ministerial summit in Addis Ababa on agriculture and trade.
With as many as 19 million people living with the threat of hunger and malnutrition in West African’s Sahel region, the World Bank report urges African leaders to improve trade so that food can move more freely between countries and from fertile areas to those where communities are suffering food shortages.
The bank expects demand for food in Africa to double by the year 2020 as people increasingly leave the countryside and move to the continents cities.
According to the report ‘Africa Can Help Feed Africa: Removing barriers to regional trade in food staples,’ rapid urbanisation would challenge the ability of farmers to ship their cereals and other foods to consumers when the nearest trade market is just across a national border.
Countries south of the Sahara, for example, could significantly boost their food trade over the next several years to manage the deadly impact of worsening drought, rising food prices, rapid population growth, and volatile weather patterns.
With many African farmers effectively cut off from the high-yield seeds, and the affordable fertilisers and pesticides needed to expand their crop production, the continent has turned to foreign imports to meet its growing needs in staple foods.
“Africa has the ability to grow and deliver good quality food to put on the dinner tables of the continents families,” the World Bank Vice President for Africa, Dr Makhtar Diop, said.
However, this potential is not being realised because farmers face more trade barriers in getting their food to market than anywhere else in the world. Too often, borders get in the way of getting food to homes and communities which are struggling with too little to eat.
The report suggests that if the continent’s leaders can embrace more dynamic inter-regional trade, Africa’s farmers, the majority of whom are women, could potentially meet the continents rising demand and benefit from a major growth opportunity.
It would also create more jobs in services such as distribution, while reducing poverty and cutting back on expensive food imports. Africa’s production of staple foods is worth at least US$50 billion a year.
Moreover, the new report notes that only five per cent of all cereals imported by African countries come from other African countries while huge tracts of fertile land, around 400 million hectares, remain uncultivated and yields remain a fraction of those obtained by farmers elsewhere in the world.
Since 2008, World Bank Group’s lending for agriculture and related sectors in sub-Saharan Africa total approximately US$5.4 billion. – World Bank