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March 12, 2008

Ex-FAO official decries World Bank's decreased support for African agriculture

Dr. Edouard Tapsoba, a Former Assistant Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), has denounced the World Bank for starving the agriculture sector of Sub-Saharan African countries of the needed resources required to reduce poverty to tolerable levels.

" Since the 1980s, that is over the last 20-25 years, World Bank inflows to Sub-Saharan Africa have declined from 30% to 6%. Some of the donors even say that there is no future for agriculture in some countries, hence they are now going into governance and so-called services, forgetting that if people are starved of food and they die they will not live to enjoy the services," he told the Public Agenda in an exclusive interview at the recent launching of the World Development Report (WDR) 2008 in Accra, Ghana.

According to him this action by the World Bank was not only inimical, but a costly mistake because the Bank itself acknowledges that agriculture is the largest sector in the economies of Sub-Saharan African countries in terms of both employment and export.

" The World Bank concedes that between 60% -70% of the populations of Sub-Saharan Africa are in agriculture and that one dollar spent in the agriculture sector will be three times higher in terms of poverty reduction than a dollar spent in any other sector and yet they were cutting funds to Sub-Saharan Africa. That was a costly mistake, " he said.

The launch, which forms part of the World Bank Development Dialogue Series, was under the theme, Rethinking Agriculture: What do we know now, what don't we know? In attendance were Ministers of State, Parliamentarians, researchers, academics, officials of the World Bank Office, Ghana, civil society organisations, think tanks and the media.

Tapsoba explains said the World Bank starved Sub-Saharan of funds through the policies of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) which had detrimental effects on agriculture, particularly in the areas of extension and research services; and the dismantling of marketing boards which were doing so well.

" Indiscriminate privatization inflicted on African countries proved to be a failure. It is a terrible mistake to equate the private sector in Sub-Saharan African countries like Ghana and Niger to that of France and United States. The private sector in such scheme of things should be clearly defined, or else privatization may end up hurting the farmer you wanted to help."

The Ex-FAO boss said the removal of subsidies also contributed in no small measure to the poor levels of output in the agriculture sector. "Show me a country which has developed its agriculture without subsidy," he demanded.

He added that liberalisation was another factor that dealt a blow to some of the sub sectors of agriculture, specifically the rice sector.

He nonetheless, admits that the World Bank's performance regarding agriculture has not been an utter failure as it was largely responsible for the cotton boom in Burkina Faso and Niger.

To Dr. Tapsoba, the way forward is for the World Bank to forge an alliance with all stakeholders to co-ordinate policies and restore agriculture to its place of pride through the allocation of enough resources.

During the discussions sessions, the Chairman of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), Hon. Joseph Henry Mensah, advocated that the nomenclature in such reports under discussion should be titled "Farmer for Development " rather "Agriculture for Development".

" The farmer should be given the equipment, technology and investment to perform so that he would not rely on his two hands to feed us. Funds should get to the farmers and not stay with the Ministry of Agriculture."

The Minister of Food and Agriculture, Mr. Ernest Debrah, observed that "agriculture is an orphan getting a father" with the admission by the World Bank that there was the need to pump more resources into agriculture.

"It is a recognition that agriculture is the growth pole," he added.

The summary of the WDR 2008 notes that "In the 21st century, agriculture continues to be a fundamental instrument for sustainable development and poverty reduction. Three of every four poor people in developing countries live in rural areas-2.1 billion living on less than $2 a day and 880 million on less than $1 a day- and most depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

" Given where they are and what they do best, promoting agriculture is imperative for meeting the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015 and reducing poverty and hunger for several decades thereafter. Agriculture alone will not be enough to massively reduce poverty, but it is an essential component of effective development strategies for almost developing countries."

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