Marcelo Giugale, World Bank Director or World Bank office
By Obinna Chima
The World Bank has advised countries in Africa to integrate and pursue policies that will support agricultural development.
World Bank Director, Department of Economic Policy and Poverty Reduction Programs, Africa, Marcelo Giugale, in a report titled: “Can Africa Feed Africa?” made available to THISDAY Tuesday.
According to Guigale, there are potential gains to be derived from such integration.
He stressed that “a set of rules, standards and taxes that are stable, predictable and common across countries would go a long way to convince farmers that investing in food trade makes sense. And imagine the impact that a continent-wide "Charter of Basic Rights for Traders" could have.
“This is not as easy as it sounds--it took decades for Europe to do it. But it is beginning to happen--keep an eye on the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).”
The World Bank official pointed out that, lifting barriers to food trade - from the farm to the market, could double Africa's production of cassava and rice; triple maize, millet and sorghum, and quintuple wheat.
He expressed concern that as more Africans leave their rural villages and move into cities, more maize, rice, wheat and other staples “have to be shipped in from outside the continent.”
According to him, the cost of food importation could be above $20 billion per year, adding that demand was projected to double by 2020.
“By then, there is no alternative but to bring even more food from abroad. But, why is Africa so "food insecure"? Doesn't it have some 400 million hectares of agricultural land waiting to be cultivated?” he queried.
He added: “Think of how, in just five years, Thailand tripled its exports of cassava to other East Asian countries, and picture that success in African proportions. The region could indeed feed itself. That means higher income for farming families, a more secure food supply for city dwellers, and better opportunities for women.
“A win-win opportunity, which begs the question: Why has it not yet been done? Well, that brings us back to politics. African governments have for years expressed their support for integration. Summits were held and grand free-trade agreements were signed.
“In some cases, customs unions were created within which people, goods and money are supposed to circulate unfettered--these unions, on paper, still exist. There has been no lack of commitment in public. In practice, though, little has happened. Like any reform, freeing food trade within Africa will have winners and losers. The latter, which include intermediaries, favoured companies and crooked civil servants, can stop change.”