Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources

Published on 25th July 2011

The COMESA, EAC and SADC RECs, comprise 26 countries with a population of 527 million and a combined Gross Domestic Product of US$ 624 billion. In the second Tripartite Summit held in June 2011, South Africa, Heads of State and Government signed the Declaration Launching the negotiations for the establishment of the Tripartite FTA; adopted the Roadmap for Establishing the Tripartite FTA, the Tripartite FTA Negotiating Principles, Processes and Institutional Framework; and directed that a programme of work and roadmap be developed on the industrialisation pillar.

The success of the Tripartite Summit would not have been possible without the visionary leadership provided by our Heads of State. In the case of COMESA we were privileged that His Majesty King Mswati III, as the current Chairperson of COMESA provided that leadership and vision as part of the three Co-Chairs who ensured the continued pursuit of the Tripartite Agenda.

Regarding Agriculture, Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change, the role of the agricultural sector in the economic development of our region needs no further emphasis. The agricultural sector accounts for more than 32 per cent of COMESA’s Gross Domestic Product and employs 80 per cent of the labour force. The sector also accounts for 65 per cent of foreign exchange earnings and contributes more than 50 per cent of raw materials to the industrial sector.

However, the region is confronted with challenges of climate variability, inadequate investment financing and land degradation. In order to address some of these challenges, COMESA is implementing the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP). CAADP provides a strategic framework aimed at increasing agricultural growth rates to at least 6% per year. The CAADP target of 10% budget allocation to agriculture is yet to be fully met. Ethiopia, Malawi and Rwanda have achieved the 10% target.

As of today, nine countries have signed the CAADP compact, namely: Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Uganda, Malawi, Kenya, Zambia and DRC. Five countries completed their National Agriculture and Food Security Investment Plans (NAFSIP) and are in the process of resource mobilisation, namely Rwanda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Kenya and Uganda. Subsequent to an independent technical review, Rwanda and Ethiopia successfully accessed funds from the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP).

Key amongst CAADP programmes implemented by COMESA is the regional food security and risk management project to increase trade and flow of food across borders. Through ACTESA, we have forged alliances with smallholder farmers and the private sector usher in conducive and harmonized policy environment. For example, the seed harmonization programme has generated agreements between countries to reduce barriers to trade in seeds.

In addition the ongoing COMESA programme on the Harmonization of Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) measures including food safety is crucial for the free movement of food and agricultural products across the region.

The recent rise in global food prices and their effects on food and income security and the livelihoods of our people is a good illustration of the need to implement CAADP. The Food Price Watch reports that the World Bank’s

Food Price Index increased by 15% between October 2010 and January 2011 and this reflects 29% above its level the previous year. This is only 3% below the 2008 peak, when the globe suffered another similar rising food prices situation. The last half of 2010 saw sharp increases in global prices of wheat, maize, sugar, and edible oils, with relatively similar increases in rice prices.

It is noted that globally, maize prices have increased sharply with such prices reported to be 73% higher in January 2011, than June 2010. It is pleasing to note however, that prices for maize appear to have been stable in Sub-Saharan Africa, due to the excellent maize harvests in the region, which have led to a sharp fall in our prices.

In addition, the ongoing and relentless drought that we witness across the East and Horn of Africa which is said to be deepening due, in part, to climate change as well as the destruction of forests, grasslands, wetlands and other critical ecosystems. Drought is seen as the immediate cause of the severe food crisis already affecting 10 million people in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. We also note the erratic weather patterns in these countries and this has left millions of people in a situation of either starvation or displacement. The impact of drought and flash floods, on women and children, poses a huge challenge for our people.

It is clear that a lot remains to be done with regard to finding sustainable solutions to address the impact of climate change, particularly for enhancing food, nutrition and income security for our people. The theme for this meeting, Climate Smart Agriculture is therefore extremely important in ensuring that COMESA finds sustainable solutions for addressing climate change related challenges.

Climate change is a global and local issue with serious implications for economic growth, sustainable development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It threatens to reverse the gains our regional integration has made, especially in food security. Hence, the theme of this meeting that is the large scale adoption of Climate Smart Agriculture. It is important that at global level, agriculture is embraced as climate mitigation and adaptation mechanism by the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as this will open the way for African agriculture to get its fair share of the Global Adaptation Fund. There is no justifiable reason why Africa cannot aim for a good portion of these pledges to support its own adaptation needs in agriculture.

Through combined efforts with like-minded stakeholders, we have managed to bring agriculture back to the negotiating agenda. However, we are not yet out of the woods as much more work to build an African consensus is needed if we are to get a decision at COP 17 in Durban in December this year.

Achieving measurable progress and successes in climate change adaptation and mitigation requires the rapid roll-out of tangible actions at the grassroots level. In this regard, this calls for the scaling-up of existing applications of climate Smart Agricultural approaches to agriculture through interventions such as Conservation Agriculture (CA) programmes in the region and water harvesting technologies .

COMESA in collaboration with EAC and SADC has elaborated a 5 year Tripartite Climate Change Initiative to be supported by grants from the EU, Norway, Rockefeller, DfID, USAID and others. The primary objective is to inject the unified African position into the COP 17 negotiations in Durban in December this year. This requires that we strengthen our negotiation capacity and adopt winning strategies. It also calls for the active participation of all key stakeholders including agriculture experts in the negotiations.

I have highlighted the main of issues, challenges and opportunities out of which we have to deliver climate smart agriculture with its triple wins of: assured food security; higher standards of living and a firm basis for sustainable economic growth and development.

By Mr Sindiso Ngwenya,

Secretary General, COMESA


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