In the lead-up to its High-Level Expert Forum in Rome this October, the FAO has issued a cautiously optimistic progress report on the state of the African agricultural sector, as reported in a recent article by Voice of America.
The FAO has calculated that agriculture has grown by 3.5% in 2008, largely due to better policies and more uptake of new technologies such as drought-resistant rice.
Keith Wiebe, FAO’s Deputy Director of the Agricultural Development Economics division, said:
After a long period of neglect, the importance of agriculture is becoming more clear to all of us. And that is resulting in improvements in some of the supporting services and infrastructure that are the real obstacle to improved growth in Africa.
Women are a key part of the agricultural workforce as they represent about 80% of those working in the sector. They will be expected to double food production in order to feed an African population that is set to grow from 770 million in 2005 to over billion by mid-century.
This is a very critical observation about the women workforce that can unlock the food problem in Africa. The biggest challenge to this however is ownership and access to some of the resources like land since they are still largely controlled by men.
Women should also be exposed more to real agricultural financing to be able to exploit their full potential. As it is now, for instance in the rural Kenya, most women rely more on what they save at the self help group levels that may not help them achieve substantially in agricultural production
Apart from the identification of the role of women in unlocking the food problem in Africa,i think effort must also be made to attract and support fresh graduates to go into agriculture instead of looking for white collar jobs.
We have in Africa an army of young graduates who can be encouraged and motivated to produce for the continent through agriculture.In the process they am sure can even become employers of labour instead of seeking for employment.
Yes, this is a great step forward especially looking at the impact of rural women head of households but it still underestimates the need to focus on developing better value chains so rural farmers not only enhance their quality and quantity of production but also enhance their access to more commercial equity extremely risk averse to agro investment in rural Africa in highly unproven business models.