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Africa: Agriculture Strategic, Neglected

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Nov 16, 2003 (031116)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Unfortunately, development partners have paid much less attention to agriculture and rural development over the past two decades," commented Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in a speech last week. "The World Bank, the major funding source for Africa, targeted 39 percent of its lending in 1978 to the agricultural sector in Africa. By 2002, this proportion had dropped to 6 percent."

Dr. Diouf's speech, excerpted below, also highlighted over $318 billion a year in subsidies provided by rich countries to their own agricultural sectors. This contrasts with only $8 billion a year for investment in agriculture in developing countries. He noted that developing country governments as well were still neglecting this key priority.

Among the FAO initiatives addressing this neglect is last month's launch of AGORA (Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture), aimed at making current agricultural research accessible to researchers, students, and agricultural extension workers in developing countries. This new program, described in a press release in this issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin, will provide free access to over 400 scientific journals for institutions in selected developing countries. These include 39 African countries and 30 other countries. Please forward this announcement to your contacts among librarians and researchers in these countries. Note that a similar initiative for scientific journals in health, from the World Health Organization, is available at

Of related interest:

For a statement earlier this year from the executive director of the World Food Program on the world's double standard towards the food crisis in Africa, see:

For additional updates on agriculture in Africa, see

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Online scientific information on food and agriculture for poorest countries

AGORA offers students and academics free or low-cost access to scientific literature

[For more information on AGORA see; FAO news releases are available at; the AGORA website is also available with French, Spanish, and Arabic interfaces]

14 October 2003, Rome -- Students, researchers and academics in some of the world's poorest countries will gain free or low-cost access to a wealth of scientific literature under a new initiative announced today by FAO and a range of public and private sector partners.

The AGORA (Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture) initiative will provide access to more than 400 key journals in food, nutrition, agriculture and related biological, environmental and social sciences.

The demand for scientific literature in developing countries has gone unfulfilled for many years. Gaining access to current scientific information has become a daily struggle for thousands of students, researchers and academics.

A promising example

While students are unable to access the literature and acquire the knowledge they need, researchers and academics are confronted with mounting difficulties in publishing their findings in peer-reviewed journals, updating their teaching curricula and identifying funding.

"The AGORA initiative is a promising example of the International Alliance Against Hunger in action," according to Anton Mangstl, Director of FAO's Library and Documentation Systems Division.

International Alliance Against Hunger is the theme of this year's World Food Day - 16 October - which marks the anniversary of FAO.

"By bringing together bilateral agencies, UN agencies, private foundations and international scientific publishers, AGORA demonstrates that the public and private sectors can work together to build greater momentum towards building a world without hunger," Mr. Mangstl said.

International cooperation

Founding publishers of AGORA are : Blackwell Publishing ; CABI Publishing ; Elsevier ; Kluwer Academic Publishers ; Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins; Nature Publishing Group ; Oxford University Press ; Springer Verlag ; and John Wiley and Sons.

Funding and support is also provided by Cornell University Mann Library, Rockefeller Foundation, the United Kingdom Department for International Development and the United States Agency for International Development.

Eric Swanson, Senior Vice-President of John Wiley and Sons, Inc, and Chair of the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers said: "There can be few things more satisfying to a scientific publisher than to contribute to a practical program to make valuable information easily available in places where it will be used to improve health, nutrition and education of the world's poor."

"I look forward to working with FAO, academic institutions and the computing and telecommunications industries to make this important initiative live up to its full potential," Mr. Swanson also said.

"FAO is committed to strengthening capacity for knowledge generation and dissemination as a contribution to achievement of the goals of the International Alliance Against Hunger and as a follow-up to the World Food Summit," Mr. Mangstl stated.

The AGORA website has been developed in close cooperation between FAO and Cornell University, with funding provided by the Rockefeller Foundation, based on tools and systems developed by WHO for a similar service in health called HINARI.


Pierre Antonios
FAO Media Relations Officer
(+39) 06 570 53473

AGORA: Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture

[Selected additional information from AGORA website]

Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA) is an initiative to provide free or low-cost access to major scientific journals in agriculture and related biological, environmental and social sciences to public institutions in developing countries. Launching in October 2003, AGORA will provide access to over 400 journals from the world's leading academic publishers.

Led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the goal of AGORA is to increase the quality and effectiveness of agricultural research, education and training in low-income countries, and in turn, to improve food security. Researchers, policy-makers, educators, students, technical workers and extension specialists will have access to high-quality, relevant and timely agricultural information via the Internet.

Who can participate?

Potential users will be required to register with FAO, and access to AGORA will be password controlled. The AGORA Publisher Partners are opening access free to relevant institutions in the following countries. Individual publishers reserve the right to add to or delete from this list. The countries, generally with an annual GNI per capita per annum of US$1000 or less at 31 December 2000, have been selected by the Publisher Partners and will be amended by them from time to time.

Eligible African countries

Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

and 30 countries outside Africa...

Within these countries AGORA will benefit not-for-profit national academic, research or government institutions in agriculture and related biological, environmental and social sciences. Eligible institutions whose staff and students may have access to the journals are: universities and colleges; research institutes; agricultural extension centers, government offices and libraries.

How to Sign Up

To join, please complete the online AGORA registration form. Only one registration is required per institution. We will send your institution an agreement to sign regarding terms of use and instructions for getting started.

Food Security in Least Developed Countries

Food and Agricuture Organization of the United Nations (Rome)

November 10, 2003

Address by Dr Jacques Diouf, Director-General, FAO to the Council on Foreign Relations

[Excerpts only; for full text see]

I wish to thank you, Ambassador Lyman and the members of the Council on Foreign Relations, for inviting me to address this august gathering; it is a great honour for me and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). To me, this confirms the high priority that the Council on Foreign Relations attaches to our mission - "food security for all".

Developing countries have made major advances over the past 30 years in providing more and better food to their populations. Average per capita food consumption increased by nearly 30 percent at the end of the 1990s in these countries - despite a near doubling of their population. Furthermore, the proportion of the undernourished in total population decreased from 37 to 18 percent for all developing countries over the same period - indeed a significant accomplishment. The gains from past agricultural growth, however, have not translated into food for all. Sadly, the proportion and absolute number of undernourished people has actually increased in some countries of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Near East.

For those 49 nations considered the world's least developed, the proportion of the undernourished has remained unchanged at 38 percent since the early 1970s. Today nearly 800 million people in the developing world remain hungry and poor - and 650 million of them live in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Small Island Developing States (SIDS), as a whole, are much wealthier, with higher per capita incomes, less undernourished people, and a much lower share of agriculture value-added in total gross domestic product. However, ten SIDS are also considered least developed. These SIDS are generally much poorer, have a high proportion of undernourished people, and derive as much as 50 percent of gross domestic product from agriculture.

Today I will share my thoughts on the challenges of water and rural infrastructure in these LDCs and SIDS, with a particular focus on Africa. I will briefly explain why FAO believes that investment in these areas is so important and conclude with some thoughts as to concrete areas for action and investment.

Seventy-five percent of the population in LDCs lives in rural areas. Seventy-one percent of these people are involved in agriculture. Thirty-three of these countries are in Africa - a largely rural continent in which agriculture accounts for about 60 percent of the total labour force, 20 percent of total merchandise exports and 17 percent of gross domestic product. LDCs are increasingly dependent on food imports, with food aid reflecting a considerable external dependency. In 2000/2001, Africa received 3.8 million tons - worth about US$ 1.9 billion - of food aid - more than 25 percent of the world total - to assist millions of people suffering from food emergencies due to droughts, floods or civil strife. Latest forecasts indicate that Africa's share of total cereal food aid might actually have increased to over 30 percent in 2001/2002 and 2002/2003.

SIDS also face unique challenges due to relatively narrow resource bases that preclude greater economy of scale in agriculture, fragile natural environments, vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change, and isolation from external markets. The threats associated with climatic fluctuations, such as hurricanes or sea-level rise, and the potential impact on food and water security, are recurrent and real for these countries - rich and poor.

Regrettably, what LDCs and some SIDS have in common are chronic hunger and extreme poverty - poverty that is persistent, often with 70 percent located in rural areas. People suffering from hunger and chronic food insecurity are vulnerable to disease and are economically marginalised, unable to contribute to output or demand. FAO estimates that developing countries have - on average - lost one percentage point from their potential annual economic growth due to the insufficient energy intake of their populations. Such losses are much higher in LDCs, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa where some 200 million people - 33 percent of Africa's population - are chronically hungry.

FAO has identified three principal causes of hunger and food insecurity: first, low agricultural productivity due to technological, policy and institutional constraints; second, high seasonal and year-to-year variability in output and food supply - often the result of unreliable rainfall and insufficient water for crop and livestock production; and third, the lack of off-farm employment opportunities that contributes to uncertainty and low incomes in urban and rural areas. I am sure you will agree that the true causes and consequences of food insecurity and poverty are thus inextricably linked to the challenges of rural development. Much of the solution to these challenges lies in the expansion of agricultural productivity.

Global food production will have to increase 80 percent by 2030 in order to feed an extra 2 billion people - yet investment in agriculture and rural areas has declined in most developing countries. Some 1.2 billion people do not have access to water, twice as many do not have access to sanitation, and 80 percent of all disease in the world is due to contaminated water or poor sanitary conditions - yet, the numbers of people without water or sanitation is expected to double by 2025.

We must change this. FAO has proposed three ways to address the challenge of water. First, we must focus on short-term, small-scale irrigation projects at the village level. FAO supports many village level projects, including the development of low-cost and relatively simple technologies designed for irrigating crops by small farmers. Only seven percent of total arable land is irrigated in Africa - with 3.7 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa - the lowest regional percentages in the developing world. Secondly, we need to rehabilitate irrigation systems over the medium-term - including the upgrading of management and related physical infrastructure. Third, we must focus our efforts on the longer-term development of water basins. Countries with shared river basins, particularly, need to agree on appropriate water management mechanisms, including resource allocation and control of environmental externalities. Long-term development activities will need to be pursued jointly within appropriate institutional frameworks, developed by countries that share transboundary waters.

SIDS are particularly challenged by water. These countries suffer most from coastal erosion, land loss due to rising sea-levels and intrusion of sea-water in groundwater aquifers. Changes in rainfall intensity and extremes due to climatic fluctuations increase the scale of flooding, landslides and soil erosion. Water security is not only limited to quantity aspects, but also quality. However, many of the mitigating actions that could alleviate water and climate-induced challenges are external to SIDS.

I would now like to address the challenge of rural infrastructure. Agricultural productivity increases, due to improved land and water management, are largely without benefit unless supported by investments in infrastructure that in turn facilitate market development and access. The statistics on rural infrastructure in Africa are alarming: slightly more than 20 percent of Africa's population lives in landlocked countries - more than twice as many people as in other developing regions; less than 14 percent of all roads in Africa are paved and air freight is less than 1 percent. Power generation capacity per capita in Africa is less than half of that in either Asia or Latin America.

Unfortunately, development partners have paid much less attention to agriculture and rural development over the past two decades. The World Bank, the major funding source for Africa, targeted 39 percent of its lending in 1978 to the agricultural sector in Africa. By 2002, this proportion had dropped to 6 percent. Similarly, total lending for agricuture over the same period declined from 13 to 3 percent at the Inter-American Development Bank, 27 to 9 percent at the Asian Development Bank and 28 to 13 at the African Development Bank. This trend must be reversed.


Governments of many industrialized countries are committing high levels of sustained support to their agricultural sector - despite its relatively minor contribution to overall gross domestic product. Transfers to the agricultural sector in OECD countries totalled US$318 billion in 2002. It is a telling comparison to note that overseas development assistance to agriculture in rural areas in developing countries has been totalling a mere US$8 billion per annum in recent years, of which US$4 billion is destined directly for agriculture. To be clear, I am not questioning the objectives in supporting agriculture in developed countries. Rather, I urge that such support be given in ways that do not distort markets and out-compete farmers in the world's poorest countries.

Virtually none of the industrialized countries in today's world has embarked on a path of sustainable economic growth without first developing its own agricultural sector. I contend therefore that the 50 percent decline in international financial and technical support to agriculture in developing countries over the 1990s has been a misguided policy. Agriculture is often the virtual foundation of many of the economies in developing countries. And, often, most of the poor in these countries depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods. Furthermore, I must note that the decline in international support has been in direct contrast to the global pledges to commit resources to reduce hunger. Sadly, it may also have misled governments of poor countries to neglect their rural areas in domestic policies and investment....

In conclusion, and I am sure that you would conclude the same, that beyond being a moral imperative, all countries - rich and poor alike - must support increased investment in agriculture and rural development in the poorest countries. We can and must change current policies through enhanced political will at all levels. We must commit resources for concrete action, such as those that address the challenges of water and rural infrastructure in a sustainable way. Sustainable investment does not reduce, but in fact strengthens the opportunity for poor countries to benefit from their own comparative advantage - which often lies in the agricultural sector.

Thank you for your kind attention.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is a free independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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