Europe risks squandering a rare opportunity to transform food production across Africa, according to a new report released today from a panel of European and African development experts. The report, led by Professor Sir Gordon Conway from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, says that there is a gap between Europe’s pledge to provide billions to aid African agriculture and a reality that has failed to channel new investments to promising projects.

The analysis from the Montpellier Panel, convened with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, notes that a G8 summit in 2009 committed to dramatically escalating the fight against malnutrition in Africa. However, the authors say that this has yet to bring critically needed support for activities that are already underway in Africa that could achieve food and nutrition security through agricultural development.

“If we do not bridge the gap there is risk that new investments will dissipate into more small scale activity and we will not see transformational change that is needed,” the report concludes.

The panel is particularly concerned that European donors have not used their influence and abilities to create a safety net. A system of grain reserves, for example, could prevent another round of price shocks to commodities markets from spreading malnutrition to millions more Africans, as they did in 2007 and 2008.

“We want to see European donors paying closer attention to immediate threats to food security, while simultaneously increasing support for African-led efforts that for the first time in generations show that African governments are determined to literally grow their way towards health and prosperity,” said Professor Sir Gordon Conway, who chaired the panel.

“Today, European aid to Africa can be especially productive because it can support emerging strategies already owned, operated and driven by Africans, which is a relatively novel situation in the history of European-African relations,” said Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Chief Executive and Head of Diplomatic Mission, Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).

The report, Africa and Europe: Partnerships for Agricultural Development, The Montpellier Panel, is focused on the follow-through, and lack thereof, from the 2009 L’Aquila G8 summit in which wealthy governments in Europe and the United States pledged US$22.5 billion to seek food security worldwide, with much of the funds to be spent on agriculture development in sub-Saharan Africa.

Perils and opportunities

22 African governments have committed to investing 10 percent of their national budget toward improved food production

The analysis presents a situation in Africa in which investments are needed to address the extreme perils and exploit the extraordinary opportunities that today exist side by side.

On one hand, the nutrition challenges are profound. Some 337 million Africans consume less than 2100 calories a day, and 200 million are chronically malnourished. An astounding 50 percent of children are stunted and in Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly half of all pregnant women in the region and 40 percent of women of child-bearing age suffer from anemia. Every minute, 12 Africans die from poor nutrition.

On the other hand, 22 African governments have signed on to the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme, or CAADP, which commits signatories to investing 10 percent of national budgets toward improved food production. And they increasingly have the means to do so. GDP is now rising in 27 of Africa’s 30 largest countries. Ghana, Ethiopia, Mali, Malawi, Burkina Faso, and Senegal are among the countries where agriculture spending already has a reached or exceeded the 10 percent threshold.

New national and regional initiatives

Meanwhile, on the ground, an array of new national and regional initiatives — many of them innovative public-private partnerships — are successfully boosting food production and building a self-sustaining agriculture infrastructure. Nigeria has surpassed Brazil as the world’s largest producer of cassava, which is now Africa’s second most important source of calories. The introduction of new rice varieties for Africa (NERICAs) is boosting harvests and nutrition for 20 million rice farmers, most of whom are women, and the families and communities they serve.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has funded 60 crop-breeding programs, introduced 125 new crop varieties into the field, and provided start-up capital for 35 African seed enterprises that are producing 15,000 metric tons of certified seed. AGRA also has enlisted 9200 agro-dealers who have provided smallholder farmers with US$45 million worth of seed and farm inputs.

“While Europe has always been a strong supporter of African agriculture, its investments today are not coordinated or aligned fully with the opportunities available,” said Namanga Ngongi, AGRA’s president and a member of the Montpellier Panel. “Where we are directly supporting the smallholder farmers, we are seeing increased yields and profitable farms; we are seeing this success in pockets all across Africa. What is critical now is for focused investments so we can replicate this success on a large scale and truly revolutionize African agriculture.”

For example, the report points to estimates that Africa has the potential to increase the value of its annual agribusiness output from US$280 billion today to around US$800 billion by 2030. And the benefits could be broadly distributed. The experience with agricultural development in Asia shows that for each 1 percent acceleration in agricultural growth there is about a 1.5 percent acceleration in non-agricultural growth.

Outside of Europe, a growing number of emerging economic powerhouses are waking up to the potential for food production in Africa to soar. In particular, the so-called BRIC nations—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—are increasingly visible in Africa’s agriculture sector. But the Montpellier Panel believes Europe is especially well-positioned to be Africa’s most important partner in develo ping its agricultural bread-baskets.

Role of EU countries

European Union (EU) countries already are collectively the largest agriculture development donor in Africa. They have been early sup porters of the CAADP process and the largest donor to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), whose crop improvement work in Africa is essential to improving nutrition on the continent. The panel calls for deepening Europe’s commitment to Africa’s agriculture development efforts through increased support that brings more focus and coordination to the activities already underway and shifts attention from short-term humanitarian aid to long-term capacity building.

In addition, the panel seeks immediate action from Europe to counter the danger that another spike in commodities prices, along the lines of what occurred in 2007 and 2008, could reverse hard-fought progress to address nutrition problems through agriculture development. The report proposes establishing regulatory processes, along with global and national grain reserves, that could be employed to reduce extreme price volatility in global markets for cereals and staple crops, which have their greatest impact on poor countries.

“Intensifying its engagement with Africa is in Europe’s interest because if we don’t seize on this opportunity, the costs will be felt both at home and abroad,” said Lord Cameron of Dillington, who hosted the report’s release as co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Agriculture and Food for Development. “We could see greater poverty, an increase in social unrest, a deterioration of diplomatic and economic relations and the diversion of investments in long-term programs to pay for repetitive emergency humanitarian aid.