May 6, 2010 / 11:27 AM / 9 years ago

INTERVIEW-Agriculture way out of Africa rural poverty - agency

* Only 8 countries target 10 pct of budget for agriculture

* 80 percent of food consumed produced by smallholder farms



By Helen Nyambura-Mwaura

DAR ES SALAAM, May 6 (Reuters) - African governments need to help smallholders turn a profit if they are to feed their hungry and stop young people deserting the countryside, a U.N. agricultural agency said.

Peasant farmers produce 80 percent of food consumed on the continent but governments have failed provide the infrastructure they need to develop, said Kanayo Nwanze, President of the U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

"The rural poor need to receive help because they are the ones that produce the food and we need to help them become profitable. For too long, we have neglected the rural sector," he said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on Africa.

"You have to invest in the rural economy if you want people to stay in the rural areas. The youth are so critical. Who will feed the world tomorrow? Sixty percent of Africans are below the age of 30 and they want to migrate to the urban areas and they have no jobs, the rural sector is being vacated."

In 2003, African governments agreed to increase their annual agriculture spending to 10 percent of their budgets. Only eight countries, including Tanzania, Malawi, Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso have managed to do so.

"If African countries were to reach that target, you are looking at unleashing anything from $40-$100 billion annually ... no matter what their budgets are," Nwanze said on Wednesday evening.

IFAD’s overall portfolio for 2010-2012 increased 50 percent to $3 billion and Africa would receive up to 45 percent of that, Nwanze said.

Governments should also work in partnership with the private sector, including foreign investors in food production, an issue that has raised controversy in the food-deficient continent, IFAD said.

African nations had to create frameworks to avoid exploitation and instead bring jobs, investment and technology.

"I believe if we must invite people to invest in our own natural resources, whether it is land or mineral resources, it must be done in such a way that the local population benefits from it," Nwanze said.

"It does not make sense to grow crops in the country and export those crops elsewhere when the population is subsisting on foreign food aid." (Reporting by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; editing by George Obulutsa and Philippa Fletcher)





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