Modibo Traoré on Africa finding its own development path

Modibo Traoré at the Food and Agriculture Organization's office in Rome, Italy. [FAO/Giulio Napolitano. 2012]

Modibo Traoré at the Food and Agriculture Organization's office in Rome, Italy. [FAO/Giulio Napolitano. 2012]

There are not enough resources on the planet for Africa to follow the same path as Europe, but by investing in the right areas, the continent can develop sustainably, argues Modibo Traoré.

Modibo Traoré is the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s regional coordinator for East Africa and representative in Ethiopia, the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and a former agriculture minister in Mali. This is a shortened version of the full interview. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Marc Hall.

How do you view the way African agriculture is developing at the moment?

At the moment we are living through an extremely exciting moment in African agriculture. As you know, the African Union, since last year organised with the FAO and the Lula Institute, a meeting in Addis Ababa to see in what way we can accelerate the eradication of hunger on the African continent, and the African heads of state agreed that we had to put everything in motion so that hunger could be eradicated from the face of the African continent by the year 2025.

To do this, there are a certain number of arrangements that are being taken. We have a roadmap, which was approved by the African heads of state at their last conference, in January 2014. This roadmap is aimed at associating development activities to agricultural production and to associate it with nutrition, and to ensure it complements the social protection sector. That is one of the essential programmes of the continent.

Even in the regions where the agricultural production has increased, the level of malnutrition has not fallen, because people produce things that are not influencing positively the nutritional level of food regimes. So we need to today to take into account the nutritional needs. It is not enough to simply produce a quantity of food but also foods which can respond to the need for diversity in the diet.

So ensuring that there’s not just work being done on vulnerable groups, there’s also separate work being done on agriculture…

Yes, in fact the vulnerable groups are those groups that cannot afford to buy the food they need so to support them, of course there are different tools, different instruments of social protection, and the government are using these tools, but it is not used in connection with the food security programmes.

You know social protection is very diverse and you can use instruments like cash transfer, like subsidising the inputs – fertiliser or the seeds -, like how to ensure some level of revenues, cash for work, food for work, and so on. You have so many different instruments that can be used but in using these instruments it is very important to keep in mind the need to support the food security programmes, because some of them, if they are not used carefully, they may conflict with the food security programme. For example, if you want to promote school feeding programmes, or you want to support vulnerable groups, in terms of food aid, make sure that this food is being produced locally, by small farmers, in the village, and by small farmers in the region, so that by doing so you provide at the same time a market for these small farmers.

We have different programmes. There are five, very famous, well-known programmes of the WFP [World Food Programme], Purchase for Progress (P4P), or we have another programme in Africa, which is being supported by the Brazilian government, Purchase from Africa for Africa (PAA). So these are some of the mechanisms that are being put in place to ensure that the food security programme, the link between the small farmers and the market can be improved.

Some policymakers have said that regional development is important to prevent people from migrating to cities and becoming more of a burden on farmers. Is this what we are talking about here?

Africa is still a rural place. Most of the people live in rural areas. I think by 2015, it is expected that 50% of Africans will live in cities, in big cities. So the problem, of course, is that given the level of productivity, so that when people move to urban areas, the productivity should also be increased, so that one single farmer can produce for more and more people. But this is not happening because the productivity in Africa is very low, even in comparison with other developing regions. That’s why it is very important, and the FAO is working on that.

The FAO has agreed during the last conference with the ministers of agriculture of the African continent, in Tunis [on 28 March], that the FAO would focus on three main regional initiatives in Africa. The FAO will focus first on the programmes to support The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme of the African Union (CAADP) to support countries in implementing this framework. Second, the FAO will focus also on increasing production and productivity in a sustainable way, within the region and, lastly, the FAO will focus on resilience building programmes. The three programmes are needed to support each other, of course, to contribute to this acceleration, the speeding up of the eradication of the hunger in Africa. I think this is important.

And the problem of migration is not just from rural areas to urban areas. It is even from the continent other regions in the world, and I know that the European Union is very much concerned about that. This is all about the job opportunities for the youth, for young people and, of course, this is a big issue and, currently, African countries, with the support of the European Union, they are working on how to increase job security and employment opportunities for young Africans, so that they can find job opportunities in their region, in their country, to avoid all the tragedies we are witnessing in Lampedusa and other places. I think this is a very important aspect and the meeting in Tunis was dedicated to the job opportunities, job creation, for African youth, and this will be one of the major activities of FAO in the coming years.

As the FAO is involved in this, does a large part of this include jobs for young people in the agricultural sector?

The agriculture sector has the biggest potential of creating employment. You know, presently, 65 to 70% of all jobs in Africa are in the rural sector, in the agricultural sector, so, of course, we need to find ways, but at the same time you have a very big potential of increasing production and productivity. Africa is a place where you have a big deal of arable land, which can be put in good use, if you have the means to invest, to develop, this land in terms of irrigation, to also support the settlement of young farmers, in terms of equipment, in terms of inputs, and so on, some of sort of extension services. So this is what we will be exploring during the coming years. And, I think, everybody agrees nowadays that agriculture is really key, in addressing the issue of employment in Africa.

Should similar approach to producing food as the European Union?…

No, no, I don’t think that this is suitable for Africa. In the European Union, these is a highly intensified production systems, meaning that we are not talking about that, for different reasons. First for financial reasons: we have to be realistic. To replicate the model in Europe is extremely costly, and this is not realistic. Second, this is my personal position: I don’t think that the production system in Europe is sustainable. It is not sustainable, meaning that you cannot replicate this everywhere, because we don’t have enough resources to afford the cost of the production system in Europe.

We have the same planet, and we do not have enough resources on our planet to sustain the way food is being produced in the developed world, currently. That is why what the FAO is promoting in developing countries is the sustainable production. Sustainable is key: sustainable meaning that we have to take into account the regeneration capacity of the natural resources. Soil is very thin. It is very easy to destroy soil. It is very easy to destroy the structure of soil but to reconstitute soil takes a lot of time, the same for forests, water resources. The water that is being used in the production system in Europe. We will have drought everywhere on the planet. It is not possible to sustain that.

That is why we are trying to help the small farming system to improve the production and productivity in a sustainable way and the FAO has produced a lot of documentation about how this can be achieved, how we can use less inputs, less fertilisers, less pesticides but with the same productivity or higher productivity, how we can use less water in the production system, how we can use less land, but producing the same amount of food in a sustainable manner.

Recently, a number of African countries signed agreements with the FAO to be the first countries to receive money from the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund, two million dollars each. How do you view this African-led initiative?

Two million per se is not very much. But this is very symbolic. The idea of the African Solidarity Trust Fund came during the African regional conference in Brazzaville in 2012. The president of Congo proposed that given the extent of poverty and also food insecurity in Africa, it is important that African countries that are in a better position share part of their resources with those who are in less comfortable positions, and, in his mind, of course it is about those who are able to get some income from oil production, from minerals and other things. So the idea went from there.

The FAO took this idea, worked on it and converted it into this African Solidarity Trust Fund, and then we had two or three countries that have contributed, mainly oil producers. Equatorial Guinea contributed 30 million US dollars. Angola has contributed ten million dollars. We have also Cameroon, whose civil society contributed.

This is just a symbolic contribution, but we are expecting more from Nigeria, from Congo itself, from Algeria and other countries. This will come but what is important is the significance of this fund. Up to now, African countries, they had two solutions. Either, you rely on your own resources within the country or ODA [Official Development Assistance] from developed countries but now, among developing countries, they want to show solidarity, to support each other. That’s why it is so important. It is not the amount which is important.

Some counties that were considered a priority, and you have the countries that have engaged in this accelerated eradication of hunger programmes, which are Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger. They have been supported in the first place. And also we have some countries that are still in crisis: South Sudan, Central African Republic and Mali. These are countries facing a lot of difficulty, so these three countries were also part of the first batch of countries that have benefited from this African solidarity trust fund but we hope that as the money comes, there will be opportunities to promote this not only at individual country level but also at regional level.

It is about solidarity. Solidarity is not just between rich people and poor people but also horizontal. We are all poor but I have a bit more than you so we can share. This is the idea.

How do you see that complementing European Union initiatives in Africa?

European Union initiatives, I think, are different from that. We are now heading to the 11th European Development Fund. This is a mechanism of cooperation and partnership between Europe and the ACP [African, Caribbean, and Pacific] countries. This has nothing to do with this internal solidarity mechanism with the African countries. It is different. Of course, the objective being the same, to help in reducing hunger and reducing poverty, so they will be complementary. As far as food security is concerned, of course the FAO is also supporting the countries to make sure that there is a synergy between the different programmes, so that they can complement each other. The sum should be the addition of its parts.

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