Southern African News Features                                           SANF 09 No 08, February 2010
Food security tops the African agenda for 2010, Mutharika

The new African Union chairperson, President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi has boldly set his priority saying, "no child in Africa should die of hunger and malnutrition".

Addressing African leaders at the just ended AU Summit in Ethiopia, Mutharika said the continent is endowed with vast fertile soils, favourable climate and water basins, which if utilized could lead to a green revolution that has the capacity to boost production and improve food security.

"Our agenda for Africa should focus on Agriculture and Food Security," Mutharika said in his acceptance speech.

"Africa must share this dream so that five years from now no child in Africa should die of hunger and malnutrition. No child should go to bed hungry."

Mutharika, who doubles as his country’s Minister of Agriculture and Food Security said this ambitious dream is achievable as Malawi embarked on a similar project in 2005 and has greatly benefited from that approach.

"We can grow enough food to feed everyone in Africa," he said, adding "We have done it in Malawi."

Since the introduction of various agricultural interventions such as grain subsidies in 2005, Malawi has trebled maize production from about 1.2 million tonnes to 3.4 million tonnes in the 2007/08 farming season.

The country has moved from being food deficit to one producing surplus grain. This phenomenal increase in production has saved the country a yearly budget of more than US$120 million that it had spent importing food.

Mutharika, who won the inaugural regional food security policy award by the Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) in 2008, said the first step toward achieving the desired goal is to urgently embark on an extensive regional food security programme.

These include allocating substantial budgets to agriculture and investing in technology such as irrigation and improved seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.

"Our slogan should be "feeding Africa through new technologies: let’s act now," he said, noting that developments in Information Communication Technology are vital in the current global market.

The Malawian president said there is need for Member States to invest in the construction of infrastructures such as food storage facilities, roads and railway to support food security. Improvements in infrastructure will also promote the smooth movement of food surplus to deficit areas more efficiently and cheaper.

Mutharika urged Africa to first feed itself before exporting as "we have a situation where we produce and export food to the rest of the world while Africa is starving."

He said the continent must also come up with a comprehensive database on what the major staple foods of the African people are, and which countries grow such crops. Africa’s major staple crops include maize, rice, millet, wheat, cassava and yams.

Mutharika said such a database will encourage countries that do not eat these staple food crops to export to those that consume them. The information should also play a major role in the development of agriculture and food security in Africa as it would allow farmers to access vital data on agricultural products, advanced technologies, research findings, as well as markets.

"I firmly believe that if we could agree that food security at the Africa level is a priority, then other priorities such as climate change, transport and infrastructure development will also become a necessity to enhance flow of information, movement of people, goods and services including the production and supply of agricultural inputs within and among nations, regions and the continent at large," he said.

With regards to economic development, Mutharika, a former World Bank economist, said he will strive to strengthen the foundation for socio-economic growth in the continent and ensure Africa speaks with a single voice at the Doha Round of Talks, the Economic Partnership Agreements negotiations, climate change commitments, and debt relief initiatives.

He said Africa must also work together in attaining UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) objectives. He urged the continent to utilize its resources such as minerals, timber, fisheries and human resources to address its challenges.

"Africa cannot and must not live in the past. Africa must look to the future," he said.

"The way forward is for the AU to recognize that: ‘Africa is not a poor continent; but the people of Africa are poor’. This is a very important paradigm in determining the future of Africa."

He said Europe and much of the western world has not developed through resolutions and declarations but through action and concrete action.

"I, therefore, appeal to you all for action, action and more action. Although Africa faces enormous challenges, I believe that if we tackle them collectively, rather than individually, we can overcome them," he said.

"We need to go beyond decisions, resolutions and declarations. We must begin to act and implement our decisions."

On the political situation on the continent, Mutharika said it is disheartening to note that some part of Africa remain in conflict, which is one of the biggest obstacles towards achieving economic prosperity and development. The resurgence of unconstitutional changes of governments is also a serious concern.

"The AU will redouble efforts to eliminate the current conflicts, prevent the occurrence of new ones; and continue to condemn, frustrate and isolate those who seek to rise to power through unconstitutional means," he said.

Madagascar, Guinea Bissau and Niger are some of the African countries experiencing instability due to various reasons, including a new spate of military coups d'etat.

Mutharika took over the rotating AU chair from Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi at the 14th AU Summit held on 31 January to 2 February in Addis Ababa. SADC had endorsed the candidature of Malawi as the next AU chair was supposed to come from southern Africa.

The next AU Summit that was scheduled for June in Kampala, Uganda has been moved to July to accommodate the 2010 Soccer World Cup finals set for South Africa. The AU Summit is held twice a year.

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