Food Security (Africa)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:16 pm on 9th November 2010.

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Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development 1:16 pm, 9th November 2010

The hon. Lady is right to highlight that. There is nothing more important than an evidence base and designing in what works to ensure that the programmes and resources being supplied in partnership to other countries have the greatest impact.

The point is well made. It also ties in with the hon. Lady's question as to whether Department for International Development personnel could include more agricultural technicians and professionals. I can confirm that we currently have more than one, which will come as some relief. A newly appointed senior economist in Tanzania used to be the head of the agriculture team in the policy division, and we are in the process of recruiting senior agricultural advisers for Rwanda and Mozambique. I am due to visit Mozambique before long and have been to Rwanda and Tanzania.

Early next year, the Government will publish a major new foresight review of the future of farming and food that will consider how the world can continue to feed itself sustainably and equitably over the next 40 years. I hope that the foresight review will have the opportunity to learn from the research and support that the hon. Lady mentioned. We expect its recommendations to influence a wide range of practitioners and policy makers.

I assure the hon. Lady that we are making a difference. In Rwanda, our work on land tenure reform is helping to underpin wealth creation and food security, particularly for women and girls, who drive it. In Malawi, our support for the Government's agriculture programme has helped farmers produce a maize surplus in each of the last four years. In Ethiopia, our support for the productive safety nets programme has benefited nearly 8 million people previously dependent on emergency aid. In South Africa, we are funding work on zero tillage technology that conserves soil, reduces water losses and improves yields. This year, our immediate assistance in response to severe food shortages in the eastern Sahel-she will have read about them-helped avert a major humanitarian crisis.

Increasingly, African Governments are giving agriculture higher priority, with support from the comprehensive African agriculture development programme, which we strongly support. The CAADP is leading to increased budget provision in the sector. Above all-I think this is the point the hon. Lady was hoping to elicit from me-it is an Africa-owned and Africa-led initiative. It aims to increase productivity by 6% a year.

As the hon. Lady knows, however, farmers do not work for this or any Government. Agriculture is a private sector activity, whether it involves subsistence farmers, smallholders-as my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley mentioned-or large-scale commercial farming. The bulk of the investment needed to ramp up productivity will come from the private sector: from farmers' own pockets, from banks and micro-credit agencies and from local and national investors.

That is why the Government are seeking to increase our engagement with the private sector. A new private sector department is being created within the Department for International Development, and we are working to encourage increased levels of responsible investment in all aspects of agriculture, including production, processing, transportation and retail. That will be recognised as the results of the bilateral aid review emerge. The results on food and agriculture are much more positive than was suggested, although the hon. Lady will not be aware of that, inevitably, as we have not yet been able to aggregate and publish them. We shall do so in due course.

Food security in Africa is high among my priorities. Since taking office, I have visited Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, and Sierra Leone, and I am off to Nigeria this evening. During my visits, I have seen what a contribution agriculture makes to combating poverty and hunger. It is also hugely important for empowering women, who provide much of the agricultural labour but control just a tiny fraction of the productive assets they need to support themselves and their families. That is why we have made it such a priority.

I am pleased that the hon. Lady was able to visit Kenya as a member of the all-party parliamentary group and to see for herself something of how food security works and should work. I hope she was able to see some of the projects that DFID, under the coalition Government, supports. Much of our work aims to ensure that new agricultural technology, which she was keen to highlight, is taken up swiftly by smallholder farmers, who make a substantial contribution to food production in Africa. Our cash transfer programme for Kenyan pastoralists has reduced the poverty of 376,000 people and had a clear impact on nutrition. That relates to the point about agriculture versus nutrition, which is often a false dichotomy but must be addressed. Increasing private sector investment is clearly important, but the ultimate prize is reducing hunger and malnutrition.