The African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF-2012) ended in Arusha city recently. The Forum brought together African leaders, agricultural experts, civil society organisations, farmers and development partners.
Correspondent GERALD KITABU who attended the forum highlights reasons why Tanzania was selected to host it.
From September 26 to 28 Arusha city in northern Tanzania hosted the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF 2012), building on the recent momentum to tackle global food insecurity.
The forum was attended by African heads of state, ministers, international and civil society organisations, the private sector, farmers and other stakeholders.
Under the theme, “Scaling up investment and innovation for sustainable agricultural growth and food security”, the forum set the stage for African ownership in the next phase of scaling agricultural development solutions and steering investment to build a sustainable, food secure future.
African leaders, organisations, researchers, ministers, permanent secretaries, international organizations, civil society, the private sector, farmers, AGRA secretariat, officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, and journalists assembled at the Ngurudoto Hotel, defying the morning chilly weather.
The first to arrive at 7.30 am were the conference organizers, followed by the delegates.
Some visibly seen public figures were the first Vice President of Zanzibar, Seif Idd, Second Vice President of Burundi, Eng. Dr. Gervais Rufyikiri, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Jane Karuku, and President and Chief Executive Officer, Yara International, Jorgen Ole Haslestad.
Joining them from global arena was the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who is the Chairman of AGRA and Melinda Gates, the Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates and the host President Jakaya Kikwete.
Different plenary sessions ran simultaneously in different rooms, with some African leaders, agricultural experts, civil society organizations, and other agricultural stakeholders taking part as panelists.
Some of them were Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives Minister, Eng. Christopher Chiza, AGRA President Jane Karuku, and President and Chief Executive Officer, Yara International, Jorgen Ole Haslestad, editors from different media houses in Africa, to name but a few.
There was tight security as only registered conference participants who had badges were allowed to attend.
Simultaneous interpretation into other international languages such as French and English and sign language were available.
To make the public informed, senior journalists and editors from all over the continent and outside Africa were all busy rushing up and downs, defying their comfortable seats to capture every event that was taking place.
As delegates flocked in the Tanzania convention centre, a group of Maasai dancers adorning in traditional dresses jumped high, blowing whistles. One could see the delegates shaking hands and patting each other’s biceps as they were taking their positions in the soft chairs of the convention centre.
There was joy, sympathy, friendship, and laughter throughout as others thanked God for the wonderful progress made on agriculture.
However, casual glances at trees along Ngurudoto Lodge, one could see the birds swaying smoothly on feeble branches they pecked at and preened their feathers excitedly as they were preparing to life themselves on the crests of their high spirits into the luminous softness of that beautiful day of the forum.
More than 1,000 delegates were in the convention centre. A concrete multi-billion self-contained building with all furnished services such as cafes, media centre, exhibitions pavilions, swimming pool, a huge dining hall, name what!
But one could ask himself, why was Tanzania selected to host the AGRF 2012?
Tanzania is endowed with huge arable land area estimated at 44 million hectares. However, currently, only 10.1 million ha or 23 percent is cultivated.
The total potential irrigable area is estimated at 29.4 million hectares with different suitability levels with 2.3 million ha of high irrigation development potential, 4.8 million ha of medium potential and 22.3 million ha of low development potential
According to the AGRA president Jane Karuku, Tanzania's recent agricultural growth represents a case study of what is possible. For example, in Kilombero district in Morogoro region, the yields for maize have recently increased for some smallholder farmers from 1.5 to 4.5 tons per hectare; the yields for rice have increased from 2.5 to 6.5 tons per hectare. The goal of the government is to transform Tanzania into a middle income country by 2025, fuelled by growth in its agricultural sector.
On his part, President Kikwete said that agriculture has always been given priority since independence in 1961. Speaking at the opening of the forum, Kikwete said that the most recent initiative to develop agriculture in the country is the 2006 Agricultural Sector Development Programme (ASDP).
“This is 14-year programme aimed at transforming Tanzania’s agriculture through overcoming obstacles to transformation and growth of the agriculture sector,” he told the delegates.
He said, however, that in the course of implementing the programme, it was realised that it was overly dependent on government financing and support from donors. Unfortunately, the government’s financial capacity was very limited and donors financing was not sufficient enough to meet all the needs of the sector.
“Donor support to agriculture in Africa has declined from 18 billion dollars twenty years ago, to 3 billion dollars three years ago before increasing to the current level of 6 billion dollars,” he said.
The President hailed AGRA for its support on agriculture sector, particularly in four inter-linked programmes; namely Africa’s Seed Systems, Soil Health Programme, Market Access Programme and Policy Programme.
He said in 2011 AGRA supported the Ministry of Agriculture to develop the breadbasket strategy. The implementations of the programmes are continuing to bear fruits.
Citing an example, the president said AGRA programmes have helped to reduce distance farmers travel to access agricultural input from an average of 30 kilometres to 16 kms in the 39 districts where the agro dealer development is being implemented.
AGRA’s support has also helped to reduce post harvest losses from 30 percent to 15 percent in Kilombero district.
“These are no small achievements. We want to reassure those who are supporting AGRA that your money is not wasted. It is making a difference in the lives of Tanzania,” said the president.
He requested donors to increase their support, adding that government will increase the involvement of the private sector to address financial, technical and technological challenges facing agriculture.
“In 2008 my government in collaboration with the private sector decided to undertake a joint study of the situation of agriculture in the country and agree on what we can do.
The study concluded that agriculture needed to be given top priority by everybody. The government, farmers, private sector and development partners, we all agree that agriculture should come first and this is what gave birth to the catch-phrase or motto of Kilimo Kwanza meaning agriculture first,” he said.
He said the government will continue with its facilitation and enabling roles. This includes putting in place sound policy and regulatory environment, investing in research and development, providing extension services and building relevant institutions.
AGRA) chairman Dr. Kofi Annan commended Tanzania for its initiatives that are being taken, commitments and determination to transform agriculture sector saying long term solutions to food and nutrition security can be realised.
He said that agricultural investments must rise to at least 10 percent levels of the national budget pledged under the 2003 Maputo Declaration. The right policies are also needed to increase public and private investments.
Commenting on supporting small-scale farmers, Annan said that across the board, there must be an unwavering focus on improving the productivity and profitability of small holder farmers-most of whom are women.
He said they can be supported by creating opportunities to enable them to move from subsistence farming to running their firms as business, and encouraging community cooperation to empower individual farmers.
He also pointed out that there is a need to ensure they are well organized and have access to seeds, fertilizers, knowledge and markets so they can play their full role in Africa’s agricultural transformation and embrace new technologies to give younger generation’s greater opportunity to play a large role in the agricultural revolution.
However, he said larger farms have also a critical role to play, particularly in testing and disseminating new technologies and providing opportunities for aggregating small holder production for market.
“We cannot increase food production in the speed needed without empowering small-scale producers, so it is high time for leaders to take actions and increased funding from donors,” he said.
Linking food security and health issues, Melinda Gates, Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates, called on African governments to take practical actions to improve food security saying that would solve some health issues resulting from hunger and malnutrition.
She said that for a viable productivity, there is a need to empower women as well because they are the ones who work hard and produces more at family level.
“When you look at family level, majority of producers are women. So, we need to respond to what women farmer’s needs,” she said.
Annan and Melinda Gates visited rural cassava farmers and a commercial village dedicated to cassava processing in Arusha to learn more about the positive impact that higher yields and increased market opportunities bring to farm families.
They toured a commercial village that is part of the Cassava Village Processing Programme (CVPP) in Meru, an initiative that is supported by AGRA and implemented by Farm Concern International (FCI) in Eastern Africa. The visit was conducted prior to the start of the three-day AGRF 2012.
Melinda and Annan tour of the farms aimed at learning how smallholder farmers in the country are achieving in self-driven agricultural efforts and how their efforts can be transformed and guarantee food security on the African continent.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) also funds the AWM solutions project in Tanzania (AgWater solutions project).
The main goal of the Project is to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers through agricultural water management (AWM) solutions.
Agriculture minister Christopher Chiza said that given the importance of agriculture, which has the potential to alleviate poverty among poor people and enhance economic development, Tanzania has embarked on several programs including policy environment that aimed at making the country food self-sufficient.
“Policy environment is a key issue, Tanzania is committed to making this a reality. We will continue addressing challenges so as to unlock the potentials in agriculture,” he said.
He urged African leaders and other stakeholders to make sure they turn experiences and knowledge gained during the forum into actions adding that the private sector has a key role to play in strengthening food and agricultural support systems.
“That’s why in recent years,” he said, “the government of Tanzania has been committed to working with the sector through public–private partnership to enhance agriculture in the country. My appeal to you all is to turn this into actions and in partnerships to ensure that small farmers particularly women benefit from these interventions in a more profitable and sustainable manner.”
He added: “Let’s not forget that we all should strive to make farming a business that would attract youth to agriculture and increase employment. Without new technologies, better seeds and other farm inputs, it will be difficult to improve agriculture and realise a food secure nation.”