Investing in the domestic agricultural and food sector automatically means investing in domestic entrepreneurship, in the development of local SMEs and in strengthening national economic and innovative capacities.
Insecurity over food is not a technological or economic problem. It is a societal problem of all times. The Romans were very aware of it: insufficient grain supplies to Rome meant social instability. The 2008 food riots in several developing countries show that this continues to be the case. Good governance requires food security.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation Conference African Agriculture: from meeting needs to creating wealth, in Tunis in November 2011, asked the question why Africa, having the potential to be the world’s food basket has become a net importer of food and can’t feed its own people? And how can Africa emerge from this? The many African leaders present were quick to conclude that the first thing to understand about food and nutrition is that it is a political issue, not a technical one. The choice for food security requires political leadership to mobilize, and where necessary to develop the necessary resources and capabilities. Upon acceptance of The Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership for his exemplary democratic record, former President of Cape Verde Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires explained that, in the case of Cape Verde it took four decades. He underlined the need for a broadly shared political commitment to the welfare of the country’s citizens as a first requirement. Being willing to learn from other countries that have achieved higher levels of food security came in a close second.
What these leaders also understand is that food, nutrition and agricultural are not just economic sectors. Their success not only determines the availability and access to quality nutrition for the population, it determines the potential for developing the country. Many ‘Asian Tigers’ have shown the way: investing in your own agriculture by enabling entrepreneurship in rural areas and domestic markets lies at the root of successful national development (Henley & Van Donge, 2012). Without a successful domestic agricultural and food sector, the best health and education services cannot attain the desired development results. And, social instability remains while large proportions of the population see their modest ambitions go up in smoke.
As such this seems to be sufficient reason to push food security up high on the priority list for development. However, there is an even more important lesson to be learned from countries that have successfully achieved higher levels of it. Agriculture, the production, processing and marketing of food in developing countries are to an overwhelming degree in the hands of farmers, who in Africa are mostly women, and other local small and medium size enterprises, both rural and urban. Investing in the domestic agricultural and food sector therefore automatically means investing in domestic entrepreneurship, in the development of local SME’s and in strengthening national economic and innovative capacities. In short, investing in food security is much more than ensuring the production, distribution and consumption of high quality food, it is assisting a society in building its capacity to effectively respond to development challenges.
In fact both history and the lessons learned more recently tell a very clear story. If you want to develop your country economically, if you want to build a country who’s population is able to fend for itself, you need to put food security high on your agenda. Because working on food security with domestic stakeholders, stimulates small and medium entrepreneurs to develop their businesses; enables more children to benefit from the education they receive and helps to effectively integrate women into the domestic economy. Working on food security is building a more resilient society; providing space and incentives for developing economic activity and the social capital necessary for sustainable national development.
Photo credit main picture: Drying peppers. Mexico. Photo: © Curt Carnemark / World Bank