Why Adesina’s Election is Important for Agriculture

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

In a surprise upset, Dr. Akinwumi (Akin) Adesina was elected to be the next President of the African Development Bank (ADB), defeating seven rivals in six rounds of voting.  Adesina holds a PhD in agriculture economics from Purdue and has been serving as the Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria since 2011.

Adesina is the first agriculture economist to become President of the ADB.  He is a dynamic leader with a passion for rural development (and bow-ties).  According to The Guardian, under his leadership in Nigeria, “food production increased by 22 million tons and food imports dropped more than a third,” creating some three million jobs.

The ADB is one of Africa’s largest lending institutions, making Adesina one of the continent’s most prominent financial leaders. Africa now has six of the world’s fastest growing economies and, as agriculture becomes more efficient, the economy will grow even faster. Over 65% of the population farms or is engaged in agriculture. However, yields are so low that feeding a family takes 70% the its disposable income and Africa must spend $35 billion to import food.

Adesina’s goal is to make Africa globally competitive.  Upon his election he said, “A big thing for us in Africa is to create an inclusive model with jobs for Africa’s youth, jobs for Africa’s women, revive Africa’s rural areas and have regional integration for shared prosperity.” He also noted that “there is no developing Africa without empowering women.”

The challenge Adesina faces will not be easy.  Political stability varies widely in Africa’s 54 sovereign nations as does infrastructure, education and health care, but things are clearly changing and changing fast.

Adesina will have some important allies to work with in his new capacity:

  • The Chairperson of the African Union, Dr. Nikosazana Diamini- Zuma, is asking all African countries to invest at least 10% of their respective national budgets in agriculture.  The program, called the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), is having an impact.
  • Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the new President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) holds a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts in entomology.  She was the Minister of Agriculture in Rwanda and was widely considered to be one of the most successful agriculture ministers in sub-Saharan Africa.  At AGRA, Dr. Kalibata is working with African experts in some 18 counties to fulfill the vision of food self-sufficiency.
  • Strive Masiyiwa, the Chairman and CEO of Econet Wireless, is the “Bill Gates of Africa” according to Forbes, but is focusing the attention of Africa’s private sector on agriculture through his work with AGRA and Grow Africa.
  • Former Secretary General Kofi Annan, Chairman Emeritus of AGRA,  says “it’s time to turn hoes into tractors,” and is committed to helping through the Kofi Annan Foundation.

These African leaders are working closely with the G-7, G-20 and key leaders closer to home here in the United States. Those leaders include: Gayle Smith, who is an Assistant to President Barack Obama and Senior Director at the National Security Council. In that capacity, Smith is responsible for global development and helped to craft the Camp David Accords creating a commitment to African agriculture.

During the Clinton Administration, Smith was Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council.  President Obama has now nominated Smith to be the next Director of the Agency for International Development (AID). Smith is well-qualified for the AID position and hopefully, the U.S. Senate will quickly confirm her nomination.

While there are many others committed to growing Africa out of poverty, in the U.S., special recognition must also go to Pamela Anderson at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Judith Rodin at the Rockefeller Foundation.

All of these people are coming together for Africa. The Renaissance is underway and the election of Dr. Akin Adesina is the latest very important development. According to Dr. Adesina, “The kind of Africa we need today is an Africa where the young people want to stay, not a place they want to move away from…and an Africa we can all be proud to call home.”

As Adesina knows, agriculture development must be at the center of the African Renaissance. As modern seeds and inputs, along with education, reache the stallholder farmers, production and profitability will improve. That will drive the African economy to new levels of success and, in the process, move Africa and the world toward food security.

The African Development Bank made an inspired choice.

Marshall Matz specializes in agriculture and food security at OFW Law in Washington, D.C.  He also serves as the DC representative for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

2015: The Year of Soils

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

The United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils. The year kicked off on December 5, 2014, with events in Rome, New York and Chile, all in an effort to raise awareness and promote more sustainable use of this critical resource. “Healthy soils are critical for global food production, but we are not paying enough attention to this important silent ally,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

The specific FAO objectives for the Year of the Soils are to:

  • Raise the awareness among society and policy makers about the importance of soil for human life;
  • Promote effective policies and actions for sustainable management and protection of soil resources;
  • Promote investment in sustainable soil management; and
  • Encourage soil health information and monitoring at all levels of government.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) joined nations from across the globe to kick off the International Year of Soils in an effort to highlight the importance of soil in everyday life. Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie will address members of the 68th United Nations General Assembly, which designated 2015 for the yearlong celebration.

“We are excited to be working with the United Nations to help raise awareness and promote the importance of conservation of our soil resources,” Bonnie said. “USDA is embracing this unique opportunity to tell the world about the importance of soil conservation and how we’ve worked with private landowners since 1935 to protect and improve this priceless natural resource.”

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service published an interim rule on December 12, 2014, which outlines how it will improve the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), one of USDA’s largest conservation programs. The interim final rule includes program changes authorized by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Over the last 50 years, the world’s population has increased from 3 billion to 7 billion people, but the amount of arable land has remained constant.  Dr. Andreas Weber, of the Cluster of Excellence on Plant Science, has calculated that the amount of arable land per person is currently .4 acres (40 meters x 40 meters per person).  By the year 2050, there will be between 9-10 billion people on the planet, which means there will be 30 percent less arable land available for food production.

Taking Dr. Weber’s calculation a step further and recognizing that consumption patterns are also changing with increased wealth, more calories will have to be produced per unit of land to feed the planet.  Coupled with the FAO’s estimate that a third of all soils are currently degraded due to erosion, compaction, soil sealing, salinization, nutrient depletion, acidification, pollution and other processes caused by unsustainable land management practices, we have a very serious global food security challenge.

Chart by Dr. Andreas Weber

In short, we need to stop treating soil like dirt. Soil is a living thing; it needs to be respected and cared for in order for soil to be sustainable.

Dr. Bashir Jama is the Director of Soil Health Program at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).  He recently noted that “We have not been caring for soil as we should. As a result, in many parts of the world, including Africa, soil has lost many of its important biological and physical properties. Erosion from wind and rain has meant we have lost valuable top soil, and as we have taken nutrients from the soil to grow our food, we have not replaced them.”

Man owes his existence to a 6-inch layer of topsoil.  Just as a balanced diet is important for our health and wellbeing, we need a balanced, integrated approach for managing our soils.

There is a scientific consensus that we need to double agriculture production by 2050 to meet the challenge of global food security.  Further, it must be done while using fewer resources….less water, fertilizer and inputs.  Simply stated, we cannot begin to meet this challenge without healthy top soil.

As you can see from the chart below, fertilizer use varies widely from country to country. Some countries need improved seeds to reduce the use of other inputs; other countries desperately need greater access to fertilizer, improved seeds, and other inputs.

Access to these inputs must come with effective extension services to teach smallholder farmers how to use the modern tools of agriculture.  It is important to develop agricultural technology, but it is equally important to reach out to smallholder farmers through extension services and educate them on the proper use of inputs.  Quoting Dr. Norman Borlaug, unless we “take it to the farmer,” the development of modern agriculture technology cannot reach its full potential.

During 2015, the FAO, in conjunction with allied nations, will be holding a series of events to further the objectives outlined above, including:

3rd International Conference on Natural Resource Management for Food and Rural Livelihoods

First Global Soil Biodiversity Conference

Third Global Soil Week

Global Soil Security Symposium

Marshall Matz, formerly Counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, specializes in global food security at OFW Law.

Family Farms in Africa

By Marshall L. Matz and Peter B. Matz, as published by the National Farmers Union

Kudos to National Farmers Union for recognizing the link between family farming and meeting the challenge of global food security. Family farms are indeed the key to ending world hunger.

First, for purposes of this blog, let’s define a smallholder farmer as anyone tilling less than two hectares, or 5 acres. In most of the world, family farming means smallholder farming, usually by women.

Africa is an important case in point. Let’s look at some numbers—

  • Half of all the underutilized and unused agriculture land in the world is in Africa;
  • 65% of all Africans are involved in farming and food production;
  • 70% of disposable income is spent on food;
  • Most of the smallholder farmers are women using a hoe; and
  • Yields for maize are 20 bushels per acre, or one ton per hectare.

These numbers paint the picture of a significant challenge, but they also demonstrate a major opportunity. African farming is on the cusp of great change and its own unique green revolution. African farmers can double production in the next five years and triple production in the next ten.

The technology is coming on line. Seeds are being created for Africa’s climate and soil. Markets are developing and iPhones are being used for extension services (Africa is very advanced in communication technology).  Soil health is a priority. And the African Union, with the support of the G-7 and G-20, has made agriculture a priority for all African nations. Several African nations are very close to being self sufficient in food production.

U.S.-Africa Ag ComparisonIn the U.S., technology is a modern tractor with GPS and an air-conditioned cab, which is connected to the Chicago Board of Trade. In Africa, “technology” is a rope that shows farmers how far to space out rows and seeds, and how far from the seeds to put the fertilizer. The biggest challenge in Africa is getting the new technology to smallholder farmers and teaching them what to do with it.

That is where the “agro-dealer” has stepped in. Agro-dealers are private sector businesses located in rural villages that sell hybrid seeds, fertilizers and other inputs to smallholder farmers. They also conduct classes for the farmers…the African extension service. There are now some 20,000 agro-dealers in the key countries that comprise Africa’s two major bread baskets. We need 200,000 agro-dealers.

Much of the progress in Africa is being coordinated by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). AGRA was started less than ten years ago by the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, and was originally chaired by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Mr. Annan is now the Chair Emeritus and the current chairman is Strive Masiyiwa. Mr. Masiyiwa is also chairman of the telecommunications giant Econet, but is the first to say that agriculture is the key to Africa’s economic development.

And that brings us to the last point: Increasing production for smallholder farmers is the way to eliminate hunger, but it is also the way for Africa to grow itself out of poverty. Six of the ten fastest growing countries in the world are in Africa. Africa holds the key to the future on many levels. It is important for the U.S. to recognize this and continue establishing/improving economic and political relations with Africa’s 54 countries—which comprise 25% of all the votes in the United Nations. African farmers are on the rise, and so is Africa.

Climate Smart, Sustainable Agriculture

By Marshall L. Matz and Peter B. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

On September 29, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva issued a call for climate smart agriculture and a “paradigm shift towards sustainable agriculture and family farming.”  It is a theme we have seen in a number of recent reports by leading organizations, including:

As Secretary of State John Kerry noted on World Food Day, “The nexus between climate change and food security is undeniable.”  A growing world population requires substantial productivity increases while climate change poses real threats to production output.  By 2050, the global population is expected to increase by another 2 billion people.  According to the FAO, that means agricultural production will need to increase by sixty percent if there’s any hope of meeting the increased demand for food and feed.

These are just a few of the many studies urging greater sensitivity to the environment and “sustainable” agricultural practices.  Gone are the days of planting crops from fence-row to fence-row while using the maximum amount of inputs.  But what is meant by the term sustainable agriculture production?

“Sustainability” in agriculture is not clearly defined, and tends to be interpreted differently by different people.  So, what are the experts behind these reports trying to say?  Is sustainability a synonym for organic agriculture? Does it exclude biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) food as the public is often led to believe?   Looking more closely into the various studies, the answers become clear: No.  The reports are urging a reduction in the environmental impact of natural resources by embracing sound science and the full use of technology, including modern agricultural biotechnology.

All too often, words such as “sustainable,” “agroecology,” and “biodiversity” (among others) are interpreted by the public as a rejection of high technology in agriculture.  The implications of this misconception are extremely dangerous in the context of global food security, as we need all the techniques available to feed a growing population in the face of climate change.

The FAO Director-General captured this theme during his remarks when he said that we should be making agriculture more sustainable by any means that works, including methods such as agroecology, climate-smart farming, biotechnology and the use of genetically modified organisms.  “We need to explore these alternatives using an inclusive approach based on science and evidences, not on ideologies,” he stated.

This point was strongly reinforced by the Montpellier Panel, a group of African and European experts from the fields of agriculture, trade, ecology and global development chaired by Sir Gordon Conway of Imperial College London.  According to the Panel’s 2013 report, “Organic agriculture is a highly sustainable form of crop and livestock production” with benefits including increased soil quality and lower energy requirements.  However, the report casts doubt on “whether the yields produced through organic agriculture can ensure food security for the population at large.”  In short, organic agriculture may afford certain benefits, but we will need all of the tools in the toolbox to feed the planet.

The next chapter in the Montpellier Panel report focuses on genetics.  “For thousands of years, humans have been harnessing the power of genetic inheritance to improve food security, increasing both yields as well as the nutritive qualities of crop varieties and livestock breeds…Since the cellular and molecular revolution of the last century, conventional breeding has been augmented by forms of biotechnology – cell and tissue culture, marker-assisted selection and genetic engineering.”

Biotechnology and GM crops are climate-smart, sustainable, ecofriendly and can lead to greater biodiversity.  They can reduce the impact of farming on the environment caused by the effects of tilling, exhaustion of soils and loss of biodiversity. With the increase in food production to feed the growing population, the environment comes under more severe threat. Biotechnology allows farmers to produce more food on existing farmland. It allows farmers to use less water (drought-resistant crops), to use less pesticide (insect-resistant crops), and to plough less (herbicide-resistant crops) thereby reducing soil erosion, water pollution caused by run-off, and the use of fossil fuels, therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Cassava Growing in Kenya

Cassava Growing in Kenya

GM crops can lead to greater farmland biodiversity and reduce pressure on fragile wildlife habitats.  Geneticists at Cornell and Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis are developing GM cassava varieties, which could be very important for Sub-Saharan Africa. Looking down the road a bit, biotechnology will also be used to improve the nutritional content of foods, as is now being done with rice.

To quote the National Geographic‘s series on The Future of Food, “Modern supercrops will be a big help.  But agriculture can’t be fixed by biotech alone.”  Rather, it is but one of many technologies and practices that can help address food insecurity in the face of climate change.  I- Phones are being used as the modern extension service.  More efficient irrigation systems are critical to conserving water resources.  Better storage facilities could reduce post-harvest loss.  The list goes on.

There must also be much more attention on how to bring these modern technologies to smallholder farmers.  Dr. Norman Borlaug’s final words were “take it to the farmer.” None of these new technologies will reach their potential unless they are put into the hands of smallholder, women farmers.  In Africa, hybrid seeds are being developed for African soils and climate under the leadership of Dr. Joe DeVries at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. The new seeds and fertilizers can only boost production if they reach smallholder farmers and the farmers are taught how to use these tools.

In the U.S., when thinking about agricultural technology, most think of GPS in an air-conditioned tractor connected to the Chicago Board of Trade.  In Africa, smallholder farmers are using a string to space out rows and seeds. The world is on the cusp of an evergreen revolution, but it requires a full-court press.

Time is of the essence.  According to Dr. Kenneth Cassman from the University of Nebraska and Dr. Kendall Lamkey at Iowa State, we are NOT on course to feed the planet but we can certainly get back on track – so long as we embrace sound science and use all of the agricultural tools and techniques at our disposal.

Africa Rising

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

According to Forbes Magazine, Mr. Strive Masiyiwa is the Bill Gates of Africa. The Econet Wireless Group headed by Masiyiwa and based in South Africa now operates in 17 countries, employs 6,000 and generates $3 billion a year. Yet Masiyiwa believes it is agriculture development that will drive the African economy.

It is a belief shared by the African Union, the organization that represents Africa’s 54 nations. In the United States we are all fed by the 1 percent who farm; in Africa some 65 percent of the population farms. While Americans spend less than 10 percent of our disposable income on food, Africans must devote the vast majority of their income to food. It is common for our farmers to get yields of 200 bushels of corn per acre; in Africa 20 bushels an acre is common.

Most African farmers are smallholder farmers, tilling less than two hectares (around 5 acres).  “Smallholder farmers are at the heart of African agriculture and they must have access to the resources needed,” said Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations and the father of the African Green Revolution.

The recent White House-African Summit and African Green Revolution Forum held in Ethiopia each emphasized the importance of the African smallholder farmer as the key to economic development. The goal, according to Annan, is to double production in the next five years. This would not only reduce hunger but it would catapult the African economy.

The good news is that Africa is well on its way to achieving this goal. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation have created the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, to coordinate a public-private effort.

The seed program has now released over 450 new varieties carefully selected for their compatibility with the African environment. The seeds include locally adapted varieties of maize, rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, soybeans, bananas and other African staples.

Other AGRA programs focus on soil health, markets, capacity building, financing and public policy in those countries that make up Africa’s two “breadbaskets.”

“Africa has the resources necessary to feed its population and to help feed the world as well,” said Akin Adesina, the minister of agriculture in Nigeria. It is a rich continent with poor people. Agriculture already accounts for over one-third of Africa’s combined gross national products. Further, agriculture has strong multiplier effects on employment and is critical to achieving broad-based economic growth, reducing poverty and addressing youth unemployment.

While continuing to expand seed production, markets and the other building blocks of modern agriculture, there are two major challenges.

The first challenge is to get the modern seeds and other inputs needed to boost production to the smallholder farmers who are the backbone of African agriculture. There are now some 20,000 local agro-dealers in rural Africa. They are privately owned businesses: mom-and-pop agriculture stores reaching smallholder farmers in the local villages. Africa needs 200,000.

The agro-dealer network has provided farmers with over 400,000 metric tons of seed and 1 million metric tons of fertilizers. Farmers in Kenya, Nigeria, Mozambique, Uganda and Ghana are reporting that improved hybrid seed varieties along with other inputs have doubled harvests. Further, agro-dealers can provide extension services to educate smallholder farmers on best practices and tractors to help mechanization. It is clearly time to replace hoes with tractors.

The other major challenge in Africa is government policy. While many African countries are responding to the African Union’s call to allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture, more attention must be paid to consistent and reliable government regulatory policies. Trade among African nations must be eased. Governments can also help with guaranteed financing for smallholder farmers and other creative initiatives. In Kenya, for example, Governor Mutua in Mackakos County has purchased tractors and is lending them to farmers for one day at a time.

In the United States, we take agriculture and food production for granted. We are the most efficient country in the history of the world when it comes to food production. Most of our political leaders, including President Obama and those in Congress, come from our big cities. But if we want to help Africa and its emerging private sector economy, we must give more time and thought to agriculture. The African Growth and Opportunity Act, AGOA, should be amended to provide technical assistance for agriculture. Feed the Future should be made permanent by legislation with a focus on economic development.

Africa is on the cusp of great change with six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world. It is agriculture that is going to drive the next stage of Africa’s economic development, as it did in the United States after President Lincoln created the Department of Agriculture and the land grant universities.

Marshall Matz was counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture. He serves on the board of the World Food Program-USA and the Congressional Hunger Center.

2014 Global Child Nutrition Forum, Sept. 29-Oct. 3

By Peter B. Matz

The 2014 Global Child Nutrition Forum is fast approaching and, while space is limited, there is still opportunity to attend, exhibit and/or sponsor the Forum.  This year’s event is being held by the Global Child Nutrition Foundation and World Food Program outside Johannesburg, South Africa, from September 29-October 3.

This conference is held annually to support countries in the development and implementation of sustainable school feeding programs, i.e. programs that can be maintained long-term with a connection to local agriculture.  This year’s theme is “Nutrition and School Feeding: Improving Nutrition by Strengthening School Feeding Programs,” with a focus on the multi-sector benefits of sustainable school feeding programs and the United Nations Post-2015 Agenda.

Who’s invited?  Representatives of government offices, companies, international organizations, NGOs, academic institutions, and others interested in school feeding and child nutrition programs, as well as the link between agriculture and school feeding programs in Africa.

In particular, participation is encouraged among the sectors which gain the most benefit from investing in nutritious school meal programs with a connection to local farm production: Education, Agriculture, Finance, Health, Industry and Trade, and Budget and Planning.

Why attend?  The Forum is an opportunity to share your experience, successes, and challenges in school feeding and to learn what others are doing, as well as to interact with experts from around the world, see school feeding in action in South Africa and exhibit your programs and products in the Market Place.  Further, the Forum provides the ideal opportunity to contribute to the discussions on the UN Post-2015 Agenda on the development of partnerships among smallholder farmers, governments, the private sector and stakeholders in adding value across the supply chain through school feeding programs.

For further information about the event and/or to register, please visit www.gcnf2014.orgPlease note that registration is being handled exclusively through this website.

White House U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit: Agriculture Prospective

By Marshall L. Matz and Eden Shiferaw

“…agriculture development is critical, because it’s the best way to boost incomes for the majority of the Africans who are farmers, especially as they deal with the impacts of climate change…”  President Obama, August 5, 2014

What is the White House U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit?

The first ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit took place on Monday, August 4th through Wednesday, August 6th. The Summit involved the United States, over 50 African heads of state, and the African Union. The Summit was organized around the theme “Investing in the Next Generation.” Summit participants discussed investment issues, peace and security, governance, and other topics. The Summit and associated events highlighted key goals in the White House Administration’s 2012 Africa Strategy, which focuses on U.S. efforts to help African countries to foster:

  • good governance;
  • food security;
  • increased economic growth, trade, and investment, in partnership with U.S. firms;
  • durable peace and security; and
  • greater socio-economic opportunity and development.

Initiatives and Partnerships Related to Agriculture

  • Global Resilience Partnership, a $100 million partnership launched by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and The Rockefeller Foundation was announced at the Summit. The Global Resilience Partnership will institute a new model for solving the complex and interrelated challenges of the 21st century such as persistent and often extreme poverty, food insecurity, and climate shocks through public-private partnerships.
  • Through the Feed the Future initiative, the U.S. Government stands alongside its partners in Africa to promote agricultural development as a means to catalyze broad-based economic growth that can make a significant impact against hunger, poverty and undernutrition. The U.S. reiterated its commitment to enable smallholder farmers and producers with access to agricultural insurance so that they can feel comfortable adopting and using new tools, technologies and practices that can help increase yields and, ultimately, economic outcomes.
  • The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition report was released at the Summit, announcing that, under the effort, private sector companies have collectively committed more than $8 billion in responsible agriculture investments in Africa, African governments have made progress or completed 95 percent of their policy-related commitments, and 3 million smallholder farmers have been reached.
  • The Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) initiative will now have four new partners and up to $1 billion in export credit guarantees that will enhance trade between the U.S. and Africa.
  • The United States intends to join the global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (ACSA) slated for launch at the United Nations Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York in September 2014. At the Summit, the African Union Commission shared its plans for a roadmap to implement the Malabo Declaration’s commitments, including actions to build resilience to climate and weather-related risks through Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA).

Administration’s Comments on Agriculture

  • Secretary of State John Kerry: “When you talk about food security, it doesn’t take very long to have the name, Norman Borlaug, come up. Norman would have been 100 years old this year, and he dedicated his entire life and career to feeding the world’s hungry. He won a Nobel Prize for his work. And he pursued that path for one reason. As he put it, ‘You can’t build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery,’ pretty simple.

But on top of that, the growing impacts of climate change are going to put extraordinary stress on our ability to be able to produce the amount of food that we need to be able to feed those increasing numbers, and, I might add, to feed from increasing numbers from increasingly – from agricultural locations that are increasingly under greater stress and duress…

We need more governments, more businesses, more research institutions, more civil society, more people all over the world focused on improving agricultural productivity, on investing in innovation and technology like seeds that withstand drought and floods, and on ensuring the world’s agricultural sector is operating as sustainably as possible…”

  • Secretary of Agriculture (USDA), Tom Vilsack: As a panelist during the “Resilience and Food Security in a Changing Climate” event, Secretary Tom Vilsack discussed the three goals USDA is focused on, including advancing sustainable agricultural practices, building greater resiliency in agriculture, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions related to agriculture. Secretary Vilsack said USDA can share research data on crop genomes, pest and disease control, as well as monitoring and addressing drought conditions.


The Administration considers global food security a top foreign policy priority. It is not just Africans and African leaders recognizing the importance of agriculture, the Summit demonstrated the Administration’s understanding that agriculture is the key to Africa’s economic prosperity. Furthermore, the Administration accepts that a “green revolution” in Africa cannot take place without Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) technology. The Administration repeatedly alluded to biotechnology by advocating for smart, sound science in order to combat the effects of climate change.

The Administration purposely refrained from offering a set of deliverables from the Summit, however, it should be noted that the Administration is enthusiastic about Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Feed the Future. Throughout the Summit, the Administration reiterated that AGOA and Feed the Future are top legislative priorities.

Despite the Administration refraining from deliverables, the Summit was a successful bipartisan effort. “Congress has played an enormous role on a bipartisan basis in supporting Africa policy,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. “It is important to note that in an environment in Washington where there’s not a lot of bipartisan agreement, Africa has been the true exception.”


Farming’s transformation starts to change Africa

By Marshall Matz, as published in the Des Moines Register

Next month President Barack Obama is hosting an Africa summit with heads of state and corporate chief executive officers. The timing is excellent.

Africa’s unique green revolution, with its focus on smallholder farmers, is now moving beyond the tipping point. And as smallholder farmers make the transition from subsistence farming to successful entrepreneurs, the continent’s green revolution will fundamentally change the face of Africa.

Last month, the African Union met to mark the 10th anniversary of its comprehensive Africa agriculture development program. The program called on all African governments to invest at least 10 percent of their budgets in agriculture. The new goal is to at least double agriculture production by 2015, sustain annual agriculture GDP growth of at least 6 percent; triple intra-African trade in agricultural commodities and services; create job opportunities for 30 percent of the youth; and end hunger in Africa by 2025.

This bold agenda is doable. Half of those who are hungry in Africa are smallholder farmers. As they move from subsistence farming to entrepreneurs it will change the face of Africa.

While the White House summit will focus on many of the broad issues facing Africa, it will include agriculture and food security. Agriculture is the area where the president has the greatest opportunity to make his mark.

According to Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless, co-chair of GROW Africa, and chairman of the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, “With broad action on policy, investment and technology, Africa’s farmers can double their productivity within five years.”

The White House African leaders summit is not just important to Africa. It is important to the United States. Six of the fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa, and Africa is becoming a major market and potential trading partner for U.S. companies.

Further, over half of all the underutilized and unused agricultural land in the world is in Africa. As a result, it is not possible to achieve global food security without Africa. Finally, Africa is an important strategic partner for U.S. national security.

As President Obama said in Tanzania last summer, “In our global economy, our fortunes are linked like never before. So, more growth and opportunity in Africa can mean more growth and opportunity in the United States. And this is not charity; this is self-interest. And that’s why a key element of my engagement with Africa, and a key focus during this trip, has been to promote trade and investment that can create jobs on both side of the Atlantic.”

The attention on African agriculture these past few years is already having a major impact on the ground as it reaches Africa’s smallholder farmers. The immediate focus in Africa is on the 18 African countries that comprise the continent’s two breadbasket regions.

The coordinator and spark plug for translating much of the political attention is the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, working with the African Union, the private sector and other stakeholders. Their bold initiative focuses on seed development, soil health, markets, capacity building, credit and public policy across the African continent.

Plant breeders supported by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa have so far developed over 440 new and improved crop varieties, many of them now starting to increase smallholder productivity. They have helped to establish and strengthen more than 80 private, African-owned and operated seed enterprises. These now produce more than 80,000 metric tons of certified seed of key staple food crops each year — up dramatically from less than 2,500 metric tons in 2006.

More than 1.5 million farmers are now using integrated soil fertility management technologies. Over 2,500 farmer organizations have received intensive business and management training, enabling them to become more sustainable and effective in meeting the needs of smallholder farmers. Some 20,000 agro dealers have been established in rural communities to distribute improved seeds, fertilizer and other inputs. The privately owned agro dealers are also providing extension services to their customers. A more detailed summary of the state of play on the ground in Africa can be found in the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa’s 2013 annual report.

At the end of 2013, Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations, stepped down as chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and became its chairman emeritus. In doing so, he said, “We can move forward together knowing that the transformation of African agriculture is now well under way, and has the momentum needed to achieve our shared vision of a uniquely African Green Revolution.”

The secretary general is correct. The African green revolution is well under way. President Obama has the opportunity to greatly increase the pace of that momentum by building on his past leadership and identifying specific goals for future action.

MARSHALL MATZ specializes in agriculture and global food security at OFW Law in Washington, D.C. He serves on the board of directors of the World Food Program USA and the Congressional Hunger Center. He was formerly counsel to the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee on Agriculture.

Global Food Security

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

Agriculture is a business, a very big business.  Whether you look at net farm income, agriculture exports or the number of people employed in the farm and food value chain, agriculture is big business by any criteria.

As the Old Testament tells us, however, agriculture is more than just a business. Agriculture is special. Agriculture provides the basic sustenance for all of us and we have an obligation to help the hungry.

It is, therefore, very troubling that according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) there are still 842 million people, or one in eight, who are suffering from chronic hunger or food insecurity. FAO defines food insecurity as not getting enough food to conduct an active life. This is a lower number than the 868 million reported a few years ago and the number of undernourished has fallen by 17 percent since 1990-92.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, providing food to more than 97 million people in 80 countries last year. WFP crosses some of the toughest terrain on the planet to get food to hungry people. On any given day, WFP operates an average of 50 aircrafts, 30 ships and 5,000 trucks. With its own fleet of airplanes, ships and logistics staff, the WFP staff frequently risk their lives to reach those with the highest risk of starvation.

WFP also provides school meals to more than 24 million children each year. School meals help to improve children’s nutrition, ability to learn and life chances. School feeding also gives poor families an incentive to send children to school, especially girls.

School lunch program in Kibera, Kenya

School lunch program in Kibera, Kenya

Food insecurity, compared to “hunger” is a more complex condition. According to the FAO, its dimensions are a series of indicators including food availability, access, utilization and stability. Asia has the largest number of hungry people (over 500 million) but Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence (24.8 percent of population). Three-quarters of all hungry people live in rural areas, mainly in the villages of Asia and Africa. Overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture for their food, these populations have no alternative source of income or employment.

FAO calculates that around half of the world’s hungry people are from smallholder farming communities, surviving off marginal lands prone to natural disasters like drought or flood. Another 20 percent belong to landless families dependent on farming and about 10 percent live in communities whose livelihoods depend on herding, fishing or forest resources.

The remaining 20 percent live in shanty towns on the periphery of the biggest cities in developing countries. The numbers of poor and hungry city dwellers are rising rapidly along with the world’s total urban population.

This brings us full circle. In order to dramatically decrease food insecurity, we need to help smallholder farmers boost production.

“Half of those who are food insecure are smallholder farmers.”

–Rick Leach, President, WFP-USA

Howard Buffett hit the nail on the head when he said, “Small-scale farmers play a crucial role in fighting global hunger and poverty, both for their own families and for the regions in which they live.” For that reason, the effort to help smallholder farmers is fast becoming the focus of attention in the fight to eliminate food insecurity:

  • Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, supports country-driven approaches to address the root causes of hunger and poverty. Through this Presidential initiative, the United States is helping countries transform their own agricultural sectors to grow enough food to sustainably feed their people.
  • In 2012, the G-8 (now G-7) committed to working with our African and other international partners to launch a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in order to accelerate the flow of private capital to African agriculture, take to scale new technologies and other innovations that can increase sustainable agricultural productivity, and reduce the risk borne by vulnerable economies and communities.
  • The African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) program is urging all African governments to invest at least 10 percent of their national budgets in agriculture.
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation‘s agricultural development strategy is “premised on a hypothesis that it is possible for smallholder farmers to double and in some cases even triple their yields in the next 20 years while preserving the land. Increased productivity growth will contribute to overarching goals of hunger and poverty reduction.”
  • The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa is focused on assisting smallholder farmers across Africa.

According to the Office of Food Security at the State Department, we need to increase global food production by 70 percent before 2050. Women make up the majority of the agricultural workforce in many areas of the world. Yet today, for every investment we make in producing food, we fail to get the best results because MANY women lack the access they need to land, seeds, water, credit and markets.

The 2013 Millennium Development Goals Report says that the target of halving the percentage of people suffering from hunger and food insecurity is within reach. That is correct; with concerted action by national governments, international partners and the private sector focused on smallholder women farmers, the hunger target can be achieved.

The bottom line is that assisting smallholder farmers boost production is the key to both reducing food insecurity and at the same time improving economic development and political stability.  Africa, in particular, is on the cusp of dramatic change as it has over half of the world’s underutilized agricultural land.  We can do this!

Marshall Matz specializes in agriculture and global food security at OFW Law in Washington, D.C. He serves on the Board of Directors of the World Food Program—USA and the Congressional Hunger Center.  Before entering private practice, Marshall was General Counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture. mmatz@ofwlaw.com

Marcia Fudge, Member of House Ag Committee, to Chair Congressional Black Caucus

By Marshall L. Matz

On November 14th, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) unanimously elected Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) to serve as Chair during the 113th Congress.  Rep. Fudge is the first member of the House Agriculture Committee to serve as CBC chair.

Founding Members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Source: Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), for whom we are the U.S. representative, is delighted by the election of Rep. Fudge to Chair the CBC. Given the recent Camp David Declaration and its emphasis on boosting agriculture production in Africa, the timing of her election is perfect.  She will bring an important perspective and focus.

You can read the CBC press release here.