June 19, 2008

Africa Could Save Us All

How long should we hold our breath for that one?

The food crisis continues to get worse with floods jeopordizing corn and soy production in high-producing midwest states, a lack of quick production solutions from developed nations to encourage higher yeilds, and continued commodities speculation as stock markets stay below-ground. But what is that over there? What's that thing in the distance? It's Africa!--flying to the rescue and batting aside high food prices with a record agricultural surplus as the wind blows its long and checkered cape. The naysayers say that it hasn't happened yet, but I say it easily could.

The world food summit in Rome saw some extremely somber affluent nations dedicate more money to a specific program geared toward helping farmers in Africa. We covered the details when the steps were first announced, and some of them (like supplying seeds and fertilizers that are right now outside of the typical African farmer's buying power) are brilliantly simple. These same steps were just highlighted again at the African regional conference as good ways to combat what has become a chronic underuse of farmable land. The FAO gave a full report that I submit to the record, but I'll also leave what I think is the most important part here:

Agriculture continues to play a predominant role in the national economies of sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for 17 percent of GDP, 57 percent of employment and 11 percent of export earnings for a population increasing by 2.6 percent per year. However, in the past 20 years, grain production in Africa rose only by 2.6 percent per year, leading to a rapid increase in imports (3.5 percent per year) to meet requirements.

Changing the amount of food Africa is importing could change the global playing field significantly, and the only way to decrease foreign dependence is to increase national production, and now that we are finally seeing some measurable steps toward making African agriculture sustainable we just might see some results.

Earlier on our blog, Tim Breitbarth discussed this very thing, stating that this food crisis (and the lack of solutions from developed countries) could be the ticket to pulling poor farmers out of poverty. The recent floods have only underscored how truly vulnerable we are, and how much of our security will increasingly depend upon high production globally. The FAO clearly thinks that with the right conditions Africa could boost us all out of a food crisis. Let's hope it's true, because right now it's our best hope.

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