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Paul Weisenfeld is an Assistant Administrator in Bureau for Food Security which leads President Barack Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative.  He came to Ethiopia last August to launch the Food Security and Nutrition program announced at the sidelines of the G8 summit in Camp David, USA, last May.  He says this highlights the effort of Ethiopia to join the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition; G8 Initiative.  G8 countries promised to provide more than USD 18 billion to push the productivity of agriculture in Africa four years ago. Capital’s Pawlos Belete talked with Weisenfeld about the United States’ initiative to boost agricultural production in Africa and national commitments in regard to the G8 and African Union Compressive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP).

Capital: In 2009 in L’Aquila, Italy, a comprehensive agreement about African Agricultural Development Program was launched by leaders of G8 countries? Since the Camp David program is a continuation of that, what were the achievements over the years?

Paul Weisenfeld: The 2009 G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, really built on the important work Africa started; the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). In that summit president Obama pledged USD 3.5 billion to support efforts to develop African agriculture and other countries pledged about USD 18 billion on top of the US pledge. In building on the work African started through CAADP, countries in the plan agreed to commit 10 percent of their GDP to agricultural development. This will enable a six percent growth in the agricultural sector. So, we think those commitments are hugely important efforts to really highlight the benefits of agricultural potential. The summit in May [2012] in Camp David was an all day event before the May 18 summit. It was a summit where president Obama announced the new alliance for food security and nutrition. To us, it is really important to take forward the efforts we have started in CAADP. The idea for the G8 summit was the new alliance. It was how we can accelerate the promises that were laid out in CAADP, how we can really move forward in an aggressive way to achieve the six percent agricultural development targets laid out in CAADP. And also to flash out the commitments that were made in CAADP to private sector growth. Through CAADP countries entered in to investment plan. The government of Ethiopia has an agricultural growth plan. This entire plan talks about the importance of private sector investment in agriculture. The new alliance is intended to think about what that means. It stimulates or accelerates that kind of investment. We have started the new alliance with three African countries; Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania. They executed a cooperation framework. The cooperation framework outlines the government’s commitment to create enabling environments that stimulate greater private sector investment in agriculture. Around 45 private companies, overall, are committed to explore [private agricultural development opportunities]. They have signed a letter of intent committing to explore real investment in agriculture. Those are hugely important efforts to really stimulate agricultural growth. The private sector brings the whole range of things. For us working for USAID, obviously, we think donor investment is an important catalyst to help create the environment where investment is made. But, private sector investment brings sustainability. It works for its market, new technology and innovation. In marketing that technology and innovation market with the entrepreneurship skill of smallholder farmers in Ethiopia is what going to keep the fortune cycle sustain agricultural growth.

Capital: One of the commitments outlined in the CAADP is about transparent land tenure policy. As you might know, the Ethiopian government believes that land is collective property owned by the government and the general public. Is such a policy appropriate for boosting private agricultural investment?

Paul: We have seen all over Africa in the three countries that have become members of the new alliance so far Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania. All of those documents contain commitments about land tenure. There is a lot of research worldwide about providing some tenure security is really a foundation to create a confidence for people to invest. In the cooperation framework for Ethiopia does contain some elements. Ethiopia is a pioneer in providing land holding certificate. The cooperation framework contains some element to expand that certification. The impact for us is really going to be felt by the smallholder farmers. We want to unleash the resources of the private sector. If you are a smallholder farmer in Ethiopia, Ghana or Mozambique, if you worry that someone can take the land that you are working on when you get a little bit of extra income, it is difficult to decide to invest in such a land. You may invest it something else. You may invest in buying a television or invest in another business. But, if you feel that there is some form of security in tenure, then we have seen that there is a lot of research output that encourages people to invest their own resources. You will see an increase in investment from smallholder from smallholder farmers themselves and an increase in investment from larger companies. They can buy the product from smallholder farmers. I think Ethiopia’s pilot land certification program really shows countries around the continent there are very innovative ways to do this and stimulate the economy.

Capital: What about trade policy?

Paul: Trade policies are obviously very complex. A lot of what we would say needs to happen, is to first focus on trade within the country. It is not technical trade but movement of goods and services within a country. You need to make sure that the food product can move from food surplus to food deficit areas with in a country. That requires all sort of investment in infrastructure in terms of non trade obstacles to trade. There is also trade regionally. Food products need to move between east African countries I think is an important issue. Part of our regional bilateral program based in Nairobi with Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania looks at regional harmonization of rules that govern the provision of seeds and fertilizer. It is also about rules that govern the movement of finished products. Again, there is a wealth of research in literature showing that opening up those barriers will encourage people to invest more and will go the benefit of smallholder farmers and those without food.

Capital: But experts argue opening up seed market for multinational companies will end up in seed production monopoly. And monopoly will force price to go up. What is you argument against such expert opinion?

Paul: I am not clear by what they mean creating monopoly. If you open up your market to a variety of different actors, then you will have various multinational companies. That shouldn’t create a monopoly. And certainly, monopoly market structure will force price to go up. There is no question about that. I wouldn’t argue about that. But the issue is really to create competition in seed market and allow variety of actors.

Capital; One expert argues that Ethiopia produces food crops like teff, wheat, barley and the like. Few companies can emerge in the production of improved seeds for such crops due to technological superiority. Such a situation creates fertile ground for a monopolistic market structure. Isn’t that a dangerous move?

Paul: I don’t know what the current market is, though it might be monopoly. I couldn’t swear what the market is for wheat and teff seed in Ethiopia. But my guess is probably there are only one or two companies now who are doing it plus the government. The idea is not to leave the seed market to a few multilateral companies to take the entire market. It is to have a lot of competitive companies that work in partnership with Ethiopian agricultural research institutions with proper regulation. By a competitive market we always mean farmers have a choice to look for alternative resources. Farmers’ resource keeps them at bay because they have the choice to look at price, quality, and anything they take in to account. It means at the end of the day, there is an important role for government. If you look at the highly performing agricultural market in the world even outside of the West like South Korea and Brazil, there is an active involvement of the private sector in seed, fertilizer, marketing of finished agricultural commodities and processing of food.  But there is an important role for the government to certify the process through regulation to make sure that no farmer is paying for an advertisement. As we work with key partners like the Ministry of Agriculture and Agricultural Transformation Agency, we work to enhance their capacity and understanding to carry on their critical role. That extends to the point where there is no monopoly in the fertilizer and seed market.

Capital: One key goal of the new alliance is to pull out 50 million people out of climate induced hunger in a decade. Can this solve the hunger problem in Africa?

Paul: The new alliance stated the goal of moving 50 million people in Africa out of hunger. That is clearly not the end of hunger. What our president really asks us to do is to find cases where we can demonstrate a meaningful success at scale. It is hard to point to another effort that can demonstrate that kind of combined effort of donor countries and host government countries that lifted 50 million people out of poverty at that time period. You just can’t find it. One way to look at it is 50 million is a small number because there more than 400 million people living in poverty worldwide but we don’t have that kind of success. The president has said very explicitly that we need to demonstrate success. If you talk to an average Westerner about hunger and poverty or drought in Ethiopia, their gut reaction is twofold. One, we really need to do something because there is common sense of humanity. We have to prevent people from dying from starvation. But the other almost contradictory response is there is nothing we can do. Droughts are inevitable. These things will happen. The most we can do is to feed people after the inevitable happens. This is not a real belief. Actually, we have the tools, resources and political will in the West that can stop it. The new alliance is about investing in a smart way in a limited set of countries that can have significant impact. In doing so we can change global imagination so that people can understand we can change it if we have the resources and the commitment. We don’t need to feed people after a disaster. We can help countries to grow their economies and prevent these things.

Capital: The new alliance targets to make 2.9 million Ethiopians food self sufficient over 10 years. How do you see such a plan against the 3.7 million who need emergency food assistance this year?

Paul: Ethiopia has registered more than seven percent overall economic growth for several consecutive years. It is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. Growth is critically important. You will not find it anywhere in the world unless you have that kind of growth at the macro level. But there is a lot more to be done. It is not sufficient. I think over the last 10 years, we have seen a lot of progress about Ethiopia in terms of the declining number of people who need food aid.  The 2003 drought is more severe than the last year. The 2010 drought in terms of the severity of the drought itself was worse than the 2003 but there were fewer people in need of food assistance last year than it was in 2003. We think this represents progress that Ethiopia has made in a number of cases; in terms of overall macroeconomic growth. In terms of putting in place lessons learned from serious programs in place like a productive safety net, agricultural growth programs and an early warning system, there has been a huge amount of learning that happened over the last couple of decades in Ethiopia. That experience has been benefiting other countries in the region as well. A lot of progress is going on. It has always been important to feed people. There will be droughts in the future but having the safety net program is critical. There are safety net programs in the United States even in New York in the case of disaster just for people at the very bottom of the heap.

Capital: How do we relate CAADP, the new alliance, and President Barak Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative? How are you planning to implement it?

Paul: CAADP is the African program. It was developed by African countries with the leadership of the AU and African leaders. The new alliance is a G8 initiative. It is intended to be achieved with the support of the G8 member countries to accelerate CAADP by providing real and meaningful impact around the private sector agenda. Feed the Future is the US program. It is the United States government’s commitment for supporting CAADP. It is our contribution to support CAADP. It is implemented in an integrated manner. If it is not integrated, it does not work.  It has to be done through our partners and stakeholders in a country like Ethiopia and through the African union at the continent level.

Capital: The new alliance calls for the participation of international private sector investment in African agriculture in a bid to develop new technology, mobilize finance, access agricultural investment risk and address nutrition gap.  How do these four variables contribute positively to increase the agricultural produce of the continent?

Paul: There were serious of discussions that ended up being the agenda for the New Alliance in a meeting in Washington D.C. the day before the G8 summit. The agenda for that was based on the consultation we have done with the Ministry of Agriculture here, several meetings with the late Prime Minister Meles and other countries through the AU. That agenda was really based around practical impediment to agricultural growth. Finance was one of them. For smallholder farmers in Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania to move beyond the traditional way of farming requires better access to seed. That is why there is heavy emphasis on seed in the New Alliance because it requires finance. Access to fiancé in agriculture has been something very tricky for so long. Agriculture is one of the riskiest endeavors one can engage in; price risks, weather risks, market risks and so forth. That is why finance, seed, nutrition and the risks I have already mentioned are highlighted in the New Alliance Cooperative Framework. The issue about nutrition and why it is in the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is because we believe that agriculture is the key to solve it. If you look at a country like Ethiopia where more than 80 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture, the economy cannot prosper unless you they prosper.  They need to get more out of each hectare of land. That needs more improved seed. So, that is fundamental. We want to do it in a way that proves nutritional outcome. That is because a lot of research out come in last five years demonstrate very conclusively one of the things that prevents prosperity is nutrition. That is not because people haven’t been talking about that but it has not been clear until 2008/09. The British Medical Journal established for the first time two things. One is that the critical window for nutrition is from conception to the first 1,000 days of a child birth. If you don’t get proper nutrition in that thousand day window, the effect of malnutrition is irreversible in terms of physical and mental stunting.  A lot of countries around the world focus on school feeding.  The impact of that research made clear that the school feeding program is too late. It doesn’t mean that a school feeding program is not a good thing to benefit but it is too late. But it means we have to do it first in the first one thousand day window. If we don’t do it in a thousand day window, we will not have the impact improving the capacity of people in food deficit countries. That is the reason to rap nutrition in together. We want to see agricultural growth in a way that improves nutrition. So, across the board not only in Ethiopia but also in our programs worldwide we focus on providing on products helping people to grow crops that have high nutritional value. We are using the opportunity of engaging with farmers and communities to train people about nutrition because good nutritional behavior is not necessarily intuitive. It is true in the US or any where people need to understand what the right nutritious food products are for children; exclusive breast feeding from birth to six months, balanced diet and proper hygiene.

Capital: What do you think is the mystery behind the second biggest continent of our planet, Africa inhabited by less than one billion people, inability to feed itself while a portion of Asia, China, with more than 1.3 billion people, can feed itself?

Paul: I am pretty much sure that Africa is the largest continent of our planet. Africa in the 1960s was the net exporter of food. If you look worldwide, people who focus on the 2008/9 food crisis, people in the national security statuesque in the western countries started to worry about food security. It has been news for many years but become an important issue following the 2008/9 food crisis. It is because we saw that 30 countries went in to conflict following that food price crisis. Countries in the Middle East worried about where there food is going to come from. Asia did the same as well. If you worry about global food security because we have got a population that will reach nine billion by 2012 [now it is seven billion, we don’t have the resource to feed all of them. To do that, we have to increase food production by 60 to 70 percent. We can’t do that by increasing water consumption by 60 to 70 percent, we can’t do it by increasing the amount of land by that percentage. Africa is right now a net drain on global food security because it is a net importer most of the major of staple food in a huge way. Except for Ethiopia and South Africa, many African countries particularly Nigeria and Egypt are major importer of wheat in the world.  That is part of the global food security problem. The key point is that we can’t solve global food security unless Africa becomes net exporter of food. Africa must start producing food and add to its potential. That will really impact the price of food crops worldwide whether it is in Asia or the US. Africa is absolutely fundamental. That is one of the reasons why you see much of an interest by global food companies on Africa. Africa has the land that other countries really do not have to expand food production. So, what happen in Africa? One is lack of attention to food security by donors and by African countries. I think we have allotted more than 280 million dollar budget of the USAID was allotted to food security in 2008.  We have now increased that to a billion. But back in the 1960s it was way in excess of that. So, there was enormous decline.