Home Sub-Saharan Africa Op-ed on Agriculture: by Thomas Yayi Boni, President of Benin

Op-ed on Agriculture: by Thomas Yayi Boni, President of Benin

In 2012, while my country was the chair of the African Union (AU), and in my capacity as a champion of agriculture in Africa, I made the decision to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the Maputo Declaration by declaring 2014 “Year of Agriculture and Food Security”. In 2003, the then President in function and other African heads of State and Government committed to invest a minimum of 10% of their national budget to agriculture. Yet, 10 years later, less than 10 countries have kept this promise. At the continental level, too few investments are made today in agriculture. Therefore the agriculture sector remains under-developed and the circles of hunger and food insecurity continue to hit Africa and the 220 million fellow citizens who suffer from hunger every day. As an African Head of State, I think this situation is intolerable.

In my country, Benin, I personally committed to the fight against under-nourishment and malnutrition. I am proud to say that the percentage of people suffering from hunger in Benin was more than 22% in 2002. It has since reduced to less than 8% in 2012. This exceeds the 11% MDG1 target well in advance of 2015. Benin has been rewarded for this performance by FAO in 2013, at the in conjunction with 19 other countries across the world. But I don’t want to stop here. Knowing that 8% of my fellow citizens still suffer every day from hunger is intolerable. I want to do more and keep on investing more in agriculture so that hunger disappears from Benin because hunger and food and nutrition insecurity are the first barriers to development in a country. To enable us to improve nutrition indicators, my government has put in place, with partners’ support, reforms and a coherent programme of fight against the causes and effects of malnutrition.

By declaring 2014 “Year of Agriculture and Food Security”, I was willing to give a deserved homage to the courageous women and men that work in agriculture sector and so recognize their huge potential. Beyond nutrition and food security, the development of the agriculture sector can boost African economies, grow jobs for youth and lift millions of our fellow citizens out of poverty. Indeed, growth in agriculture sector is eleven times more efficient in reducing poverty than a growth in any other sector. So, agriculture can be the motor of our growth. Yet, with more than 400 million poor people, Africa needs more champions. Therefore I am calling my peers to join me so that the commemoration of the 10 year anniversary of the Maputo Declaration will show a change and so that our populations can see a lasting difference in their lives. We all need to increase our budget expenditures in agriculture and invest at least 10%. I would like this objective to be achieved throughout the continent. And it can be achieved. With 60% of our arable land abandoned, our continent has the potential to feed its entire population but also to feed the world. But this requires a strong political will from all the African heads of State and Government.

In a few days, we will meet during the 23rd AU Summit of heads of State and Governments in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. I am really looking forward to working with you all so that the declaration calls for concrete actions.

As a champion, I commit myself to bring the voices of more than 2 million Africans that have signed the petition “Do Agric. It pays” supported by ROPPA and ONE, to Malabo and present it to you. I also commit to present you the 10 joint policy recommendations of the non-state actors so they can guide our discussions.

Together, we have the authority and the responsibility to ensure that Africa rises sustainably for everyone. This is possible through the development of agriculture sector.