A high-level meeting has been going on this week, September 11-14, in the Liberian capital Monrovia to discuss West Africa’s record of implementing the 2003 ‘Maputo Declaration’, which recognised the critical role of agriculture in equitable development and committed to allocating at least ten per cent of government budgets to the sector.
The 2003 Maputo Declaration commits African Union member states to “revitalize the agricultural sector … through special policies and strategies targeted at small-scale and traditional farmers in rural areas.”
The Monrovia meeting was organised by ROPPA – West Africa’s largest farmer advocacy organization – and is attended by representatives from governments, civil society and donors.
In view of that meeting, civil society organisations including Friends of the Earth International and Sustainable Development Institute / Friends of the Earth Liberia have urged African governments to deliver public investment in agriculture rather than prioritising investment based on large scale land acquisitions which bring risks to food security, the environment and rights of local people.
Liberia itself is a case in point. A recent audit of budget expenditures over the past ten years showed Liberia’s spending on agriculture was at about 2 per cent – a significant shortfall given the importance of agriculture in Liberia. Only 5 out of 15 West African countries were above the 10 percent AU threshold on average in the period 2008-2011: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Senegal.
According to the advocacy group Rights and Resources Initiative about 19 per cent of Liberia’s farmland has been handed over to companies to grow oil palm in the name of private investment – causing significant livelihood disruptions for small-scale farmers and food security concerns.
In addition, serious shortfalls in services for farming cooperatives and agribusiness owners in the country have been identified.
“Instead of handing over farming land to foreign companies, our government should promote policies that sustainably increase productivity and help Liberian farmers access local markets. This will decrease wasteful food imports and provide the basis for long-term development in rural areas,” Nora Bowier, programme manager at Sustainable Development Institute / Friends of the Earth Liberia, said.
Recent reports from the Food and Agriculture Organisation and a UN High Level Panel have found that small holder farming remains one of most productive and resilient forms of farming with more than three times more potential to reduce poverty than any other sector. The expert recommendations from these reports are for governments to focus on policies that support investments by small farmers themselves rather than on private or foreign investment.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Maputo Declaration is officially titled ‘Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa’ see Assembly of the African union Second Ordinary Session 10 – 12 July 2003 Maputo, Mozambique http://www.nepad.org/system/files/Maputo%20Declaration.pdf