Food security in Africa can be better improved if countries invest more in their food and agricultural policies.
In an interview with the Africa Review, Keith Weibe the deputy director of the Food and Agriculture Organisation's Agricultural Economics Division noted that many African countries still lagged behind in matters of food security because most of their policies are not based on current research.
"The food and agricultural policies were formulated a long time ago, though there have been several changes in terms of market dynamics the policies are yet to be adapted," he said.
Mr Weibe explained that the most food secure countries are able to conduct research on a constant basis that has helped in the formulation of strong agricultural policies which is contrary to what is taking place in sub-Saharan Africa.
Under the Monitoring African Food and Agricultural Policies (MAFAP) project, FAO seeks to partner with national stakeholders in ten African states running the pilot to strengthen capacity and provide information on the impacts of policies and investments affecting agriculture and food security.
"What has been missing is a systematic and sustained mechanism for policy monitoring that is adapted to the needs and circumstances of developing countries. This will set the foundation for evidence-based policy dialogue at national regional and international levels," added Mr Weibe.
Unlike popular belief
The MAFAP project is currently running in Burkina Faso, Uganda, Tanzania, Mali, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia.
Each of the countries’ expenditure on agriculture is identified and analysed on how it is composed along with measuring how different policies and markets affect the prices farmers receive for their products.
The information collected is then used to improve policy advice at both national and regional levels as well as identify investment opportunities that will have a positive impact on the sector’s performance.
Mr Weibe reiterated that despite the global increase in food prices farmers particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa have continued to register low incomes even with improved production.
"Unlike popular belief when the food prices go up, the farmers’ income still remains low because of the lack of supporting infrastructure like roads and storage which increase the costs of production. There is need for dialogue among policymakers and other stakeholders to ensure that farmers are protected while at the same time consumers are cushioned from high prices in order to boost individual food security," he said.
The Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) report 2012 projects that the food demand in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow at an annual rate of 2.83 per cent until the year 2030 mainly due to the population increase.
With the continent’s current productivity rates it warns that only 13 per cent of the total food demand can be met in 2050.
The report calls for accelerating and sustaining agricultural productivity through effective policy reform that will promote investments by the public and private sectors, trade liberalisation along with the use of new science and information based technologies to improve productivity.
"To produce more successfully and sustainably, farmers need enough land, water, crop nutrients, appropriate equipment and tools, and vastly improved infrastructure such as rural roads, bridges, and storage. Improving the productivity of smallholder farmers and increasing yields are the region’s best opportunities to provide the needed food and enhanced livelihoods for those actively engaged in farming," the GAP report states.
Though there have been numerous studies examining the food and agricultural policies in the continent many have either been one -time studies or using different methodologies and not sustained overtime, leading to a huge information gap for policymakers.
In Kenya for instance where MAFAP project has been running for a year and a half, national partners have been working to build a database and analyse price incentives and disincentives for ten key commodities as well as inform on the public expenditures on agriculture.
FAO Kenya is implementing the MAFAP project in partnership with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research (KIPPRA) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries.
Though the Kenyan government has over the last decade increased its public expenditure to support government policies to promote profitable agriculture in order to raise incomes and increase food security, it is still below the below the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) target of 10 per cent of the national budget as agreed in Maputo.
"Even as we focus on policy that will open up more farming land we need to address the fact that most of our farmers have abandoned simple practises of improving productivity like cropping systems and the proper use of fertiliser,” KARI director Dr Ephraim Mukisira said on the need for informed policy briefs.
Findings in most of the ten countries have also shown the need for governments to invest in the infrastructure to support agricultural productivity and reduce the existent disincentives by improving storage facilities and access to markets.
For many of the countries, the policy environment and market structure have led to lower prices for farmers especially where policies aim at lowering prices for consumers.
In Tanzania for example many farmers cannot access their markets in time due to lack of rural roads and storage facilities. MAFAP analyses showed that if these constraints were removed farmers would be able to obtain higher prices for their products as well as increase their production.