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    Millions of farmers in Africa are now harvesting two to three times more grain compared to 10 years ago thanks to improved availability of and access to high yielding, high-quality seed according to estimates by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

    In a newly-released publication tracking the work of the Programme for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS), an AGRA initiative covering 18 countries, the organization says farmers in many of these countries are harvesting yields of up to 5 metric tons per hectare, up from an average of about 1 metric ton before the programme was started.

    RELATED STORY: AGRA scales food security resolve with new programme

    Under the programme which spanned 10 years, more than 600 new varieties of major African crops have been bred and released. In addition, 112 local, private seed companies have been established, up from 10 in 2007 in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa excluding South Africa. As a result, over 600,000 MT of high-quality, high-yielding seeds have been produced and distributed to an estimated 15 million farmers, with significant impact on yields and income. The distribution has been done through a network of about 20,000 private, village-based agro-dealers who have been trained and supported to set up small rural shops that bring the seeds closer to farmers.

    Speaking at the launch of the book, the AGRA President, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, observed that establishing a viable system for the supply
of quality, high-yielding seed is an essential component of agricultural transformation.

    “Initiatives like PASS are contributing to a new image of African agriculture that is far from the scenes of low productivity and widespread rural poverty of previous decades. Today, many farming households are getting double and triple yields leading to higher incomes. They also have access to crops that are more nutritious, that are drought and pest resistant, and that cook faster using less firewood and saving both the environment and time,” Dr. Kalibata said.

    RELATED STORY: AGRA launches Africa’s agriculture bible

    “Increasing the supply of improved seeds will continue to play a crucial role in growing Africa’s economies through agriculture, but will be made more sustainable, we believe, through the development of the entire food value chain espexially by private local agri-businesses, more forward looking policies, and stronger regulatory institutions,” she said.

    Dr. Joe DeVries, AGRA’s Vice President for Program Development and Innovation, noted that the work of PASS has helped farmers to increase their productivity and wellbeing. “We are really pleased to see that farmers across the continent have adopted the new seed. But, the really good news is that crop yields in several countries are increasing for the first time in decades,” said Dr. DeVries.

    “It is extremely gratifying to see that this catalytic investment of about $300 million in the national seed sector across the continent over the last decade has yielded a good harvest and laid the foundation for Africa to feed itself,” he added.

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    According to the book, entitled, The PASS Journey: Seeding an African Seed Revolution, launched today, the transformation of the agriculture sector is critical to Africa’s economic prosperity. An improved agriculture means food security for all and growth of agri-based enterprises resulting in job creation, especially for the youth.

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    World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that farmers and the food industry should stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals as this promotes spread of the drugs resistance among the animals.

    “Over-use and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans is contributing to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance. Some types of bacteria that cause serious infections in humans have already developed resistance to most or all of the available treatments, and there are very few promising options in the research pipeline,” read WHO’s statement.

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    The new WHO recommendations aim to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine by reducing their unnecessary use in animals. In some countries, approximately 80% of total consumption of medically important antibiotics is in the animal sector, largely for growth promotion in healthy animals.

    “A lack of effective antibiotics is as serious a security threat as a sudden and deadly disease outbreak,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “Strong, sustained action across all sectors is vital if we are to turn back the tide of antimicrobial resistance and keep the world safe."

    A systematic review published in The Lancet Planetary Health found that interventions that restrict antibiotic use in food-producing animals reduced antibiotic-resistant bacteria in these animals by up to 39%. This research directly informed the development of WHO’s new guidelines.

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    WHO strongly recommends an overall reduction in the use of all classes of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals, including complete restriction of these antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention without diagnosis. Healthy animals should only receive antibiotics to prevent disease if it has been diagnosed in other animals in the same flock, herd, or fish population.

    Where possible, sick animals should be tested to determine the most effective and prudent antibiotic to treat their specific infection. Antibiotics used in animals should be selected from those WHO has listed as being “least important” to human health, and not from those classified as “highest priority critically important”. These antibiotics are often the last line, or one of limited treatments, available to treat serious bacterial infections in humans.

    "Scientific evidence demonstrates that overuse of antibiotics in animals can contribute to the emergence of antibiotic resistance," says Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at WHO. "The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry.”

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    Many countries have already taken action to reduce the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. For example, since 2006, the European Union has banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion. Consumers are also driving the demand for meat raised without routine use of antibiotics, with some major food chains adopting “antibiotic-free” policies for their meat supplies.

    Alternative options to using antibiotics for disease prevention in animals include improving hygiene, better use of vaccination, and changes in animal housing and husbandry practices.

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