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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.

    RELATED STORY: Pan-African organizations Partner for Nature and Agriculture

    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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    By Boaz Keizire

    As world heads of state met at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last month, Africa was represented by several presidents, among them Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Zambia’s Edgar Lungu and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.

    I was there too.

    The rest of the world had its eyes on Donald Trump, Bill Gates and Angela Merkel leading several institutional and state presidents to an event that had great political import following Mr. Trump’s earlier dismissal of the UN.

    But, amidst all the tension and accompanying political undertones, the African leaders nonetheless pulled away from the drama of the main assembly to hold a side-meeting, to which Mr. Gates was also invited, to engage on the state of agriculture in Africa.

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    Quuen F1 Cabbage variety at the 2017 Nyeri Agricultural Society of Kenya Show. PHOTO/JAPHET RUTO

    READ ALSO: African agriculture: who will own the future?

    In its own ‘back room’ way, far from the cameras and eyes of the media, that African side meeting at the UNGA was ground breaking, as the heads of state supported a measurement tool to achieve accountability in making the policy and many other changes, including investment, to stimulate the continent’s agricultural sector.

    The potential for agriculture to usher in a wealthier future for Africa is enormous, but for an industry that is dominated by small holders, it requires the mending of filling of multiple gaps, all of which are making it harder for our continent’s farmers and agripreneurs to draw the full potential from our vast lands.

    But for the heads of state to speak to the merits of measurement, country by country, and government accountability in delivering an agricultural transformation was a moment that I, personally, shall never forget. For me, it represents a milestone that many of us have worked long and hard for.

    READ ALSO: Measuring Africa’s agricultural takeoff is set to make billionaires, from ‘poor men’s fields’

    The agricultural scorecard idea was first mooted at the 2014 African Union Heads of State Summit in Equatorial Guinea, where African leaders agreed to a common set of targets for agricultural development and to a biennial review of progress made against these goals: in a commitment now popularly known as the Malabo Declaration.

    The African Union Commission and the NEPAD Agency have been leading the review process through the collection of data on a set of 43 indicators from its 55 member countries.

    With the findings of this first biennial review now set for presentation at the African Union heads of state summit in January next year, it was a wholly new experience, too, to hear Gates, one of the non-state world leaders and philanthropists at the meeting, comment on the enthusiasm for the scorecard concept, as he encouraged participants to move quickly to take advantage of the momentum created to secure support for the tool.

    “I am really enthused about the call for a scorecard, as it can be very catalytic,” said Gates.

    Gates’ sentiments were supported by businessman Dr. Strive Masiyiwa, who recommended quantitative tracking as a way for monitoring progress and encouraging best practices.

    The agricultural scorecard draws its inspiration from the success of similar tools, like the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) Scorecard for Accountability and Action, which have seen countries across the continent act to eradicate the disease from the continent by 2020.

    READ ALSO: Major Deals to Accelerate Africa's Path to Prosperity through Agriculture Agreed

    Between 2011, when the first ALMA scorecard was released, and 2015, some eight countries, including Cape Verde, Uganda and Ethiopia, reported a reduction in malaria incidence of 40 per cent or more, in a drop that has, in part, been attributed to the accountability framework that has been provided by the ALMA scorecard.

    Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Amina Mohammed, who sat in for President Uhuru Kenyatta at the UNGA side-meeting, expressed her pleasure at seeing resources being channeled towards the creation of a similar tool for agriculture, indicating that it holds the promise of improving the state of the sector across the continent, “just like the ALMA scorecard helped ramp up efforts in the fight against malaria”.

    AGRA president, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, one of the leaders that have been spearheading the development of the scorecard, also knows too well the importance of the accountability tool, which she hopes will, “build on and from the Biennial Review, but be designed for and by Heads of State to track progress and share best practices”.

    Overall, the agriculture sector received significant attention throughout the five-day UNGA with many speakers declaring it as the shinning hope of revival for a continent that has long held the promise of world leadership in food production.

    Anne Désirée Ouloto, the Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development of Côte d'Ivoire, affirmed that the West African country’s outstanding GDP growth continues to be driven by agriculture, with agricultural transformation at the centre of its strategy for overall structural transformation.

    Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Desalegn, also emphasised the importance of agriculture for economic growth and development in Africa, highlighting the need for new policies and investments to transform the sector.

    “Agriculture has been a key driver for Ethiopia, and has made it among the fastest growing economies in Africa,” he said.

    The response by various Heads of State and other world leaders to the prospects of a high-level agricultural scorecard now confirms that Africa is indeed ready for the second revolution, one which will emanate from our farm lands.

    Boaz is a Head of Policy and Advocacy at AGRA and also a 2017 Fellow for the Aspen New Voices Fellowship 

     

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