Africa to shoulder own food security responsibilities as prospect looms

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The narrative relating to Africa has taken a dramatically positive course lately as optimism about the continent’s emergence from the ashes grows larger.
Some argue the G8 Summit last week, where African leaders from Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania stood side-by-side with the world’s most powerful leaders, is an indication of that fast changing reality in Africa’s favour; a rare occurrence to be celebrated as landmark.
An opinion piece the Wall Street Journal published this week saw the accord given to these African leaders and the discussions at the G8 Summit as sign of global recognition that Africa has the potential to be transformed through agricultural development.
At least six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies over the past 10 years have been in Africa, where the middle class is expected to grow to 100 million by 2015 from 60 million today. As African incomes rise and cities grow, an emerging urban consumer class is demanding a better diet, with more protein and greater variety. And the question many ask is, will Africa be able to provide it?
The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which claims to be a dynamic partnership working across the continent to help small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger, is expected to answer this question in the years to come – in action. 
At the same Summit, the African born AGRA was given the key role in the G8’s next phase of a shared commitment to achieve global food security. The Scaling Seeds and Other Technologies Partnership, part of the new initiative focused on increasing agricultural food production in Africa, will be housed at AGRA and will focus on strengthening Africa’s seed sector. 
“African food security will only be met by increased agricultural production,” said Strive Masiyiwa, AGRA’s acting chair addressing the G8 leaders and four African heads of state at the Summit. “The approach being put forward by the G8 is modelled on some of AGRA’s on-going work on behalf of Africa’s smallholder farmers and we are pleased to play a major role in this global initiative.”
The Scaling Seeds and Other Technologies Partnership will strengthen the seed sector and promote the commercialization, distribution and adoption of key technologies and improved seed varieties to meet concrete targets in partner countries, according to an AGRA press statement seen by Capital. 
According to its publications, the Alliance works across 16 sub-Saharan Africa countries and maintains offices in Nairobi  and Accra.
“AGRA is working with its main partners to create breadbaskets in Africa through support to smallholder farmers,” said Jane Karuku, AGRA President.  “We are now seeing smallholder farmers prospering due to bigger crop yields and entire communities benefiting from the growth of small agribusinesses.”
Particularly impressive are results in significantly boosting staple crop production. Through the support of AGRA and its partners, an additional 40,000 metric tons per annum of hybrid seed, representing one-third of the commercially produced seed in Africa, is now reaching smallholder farmers. These seeds have been produced by 60 small, African-owned seed companies launched with capital and strengthened by AGRA – a 100 percent increase, the Alliance claims. In terms of food production, this means an additional four million metric tons of staple crops per annum. 
AGRA’s experts believe that the tipping point of food security with respect to improved seeds is 500,000 metric tons per annum of high yielding, improved crop varieties.
The Alliance has also invested in training African scientists who will develop research capacity, and strengthen the capacity of seed companies both technically and in terms of management capability. It established MSc and PhD programs at 13 key African universities – more than 400 post – graduate students have been enrolled, a hundred of whom have graduated. This represents a quarter of the scientists known to be working in this field today.
AGRA’s experts believe that 1,000 new scientists are required to sustain the Green Revolution. To date, these and other AGRA-supported scientists have produced 342 new crop varieties – a 100 percent increase in available improved varieties.
The Alliance also said it has developed almost 15,000 agro-dealer businesses, which are integral parts of the value chain in sustaining a private sector-led, market oriented agriculture sector.  
In partnership with African governments and their central banks, as well as domestic and international banks, AGRA has pioneered innovative, risk sharing, finance schemes that have already allowed millions of smallholder farmers in six countries to access nearly one billion dollars in credit from their own banking systems for the first time.
With all these initiatives of the Alliance on the pipeline and the impetus it is about to gain from the recent mandate, in the years to come it seems AGRA has just presented itself as something that Africans will look up at to deliver on the promises of turning their continent from a land of despair into a place abundance.  
(Omer Redi is a Correspondent for Inter Press Service, and Media and Communications Consultant based in Addis Ababa. He can be reached through omexa2004@gmail.com)