The most significant meeting on the future of African agriculture after the historic Summit on Fertiliser in Abuja was seminar held in Bamako, Mali in November. It also marked the 20th anniversary of the Sasakaw African Association. African Business editor Anver Versi attended the event.
I wanted to know if Africa's Green Revolution was really on track or if it was another pipe-dream that looks good on paper but that is where it stays.
"Africa's second winds of change are now unfolding," said Michael Foster, SG 2000 Country director for Uganda. "The Green revolution is now inexorable," he insisted, "because the time is right."
Foster who has been heading the Sasakawa programme in Uganda for nine years is very optimistic. The Sasakawa programmes in Africa concentrate on providing high-yielding and more nutritional varieties of maize and rice and training farmers through extension workers. (see box, Sasakawa page 17).
Why is the time right now? I wanted to know. "Because people (in Africa) have gone through the learning curve and realize that Africa cannot be the exception--we have to earn the money before we can spend it."
In the agricultural sector, Uganda has been doing very well. The government's Plan for the Modernization of Agriculture is aimed at accelerating the transformation of subsistence farming towards a more commercial orientation. As an example, Foster told me that the introduction of planting stock known locally as 'Nalongo' (mother of twins) which was developed in Mexico but adapted in Uganda has resulted in not only higher yields of maize but has additional nutritional value.
Sasakawa also introduced the New Rice for Africa (Narica) variety which has taken off. Several other African countries, including Mali, Niger and Guinea have seen their yields doubling and tripling.
The whole system is private sector based. Developed varieties are handed to seed companies for commercial distribution. When the appropriate seeds are married to other inputs such as fertilisers, output can increase dramatically. Problems include the lack of adequate transport infrastructure to get grain to market and, the most destructive, the flood of food aid. "Food aid can collapse the market," Foster said. "Prices are always low at harvest time but the demand, and prices pick up as the season unfolds. But throw in food aid and you may be left staring at a collapsed market."
The other problem is that while there may be a...