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Saturday, May 31, 2008

AFRICA LIFELINE

Long-term vision needed to solve African food shortages


Staff writer

YOKOHAMA — Investing in agriculture in Africa to solve food shortages is more important than just reacting to the continent's present food crisis, according to the leader of a U.N. food aid organization.

"The real underlying problem is a long-term one; productivity growth in agriculture is going down," International Fund for Agricultural Development President Lennart Bage said in a Thursday interview with The Japan Times.

Productivity growth had been 3 percent to 5 percent about 20 to 30 years ago, but it has been 1 percent or 2 percent in recent years, said Bage, in Japan to attend the Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Yokohama.

To increase productivity, purchasing equipment, supplying seeds, providing technical advice and investing in roads and other transport infrastructure is necessary, he said.

Improving productivity is essential as the world population is expected to expand by 50 percent by 2050, he said.

And his ambition is to double food supply in the world by then because he hopes fewer people will be living in poverty in the future, so "people eat meat, not only rice."

Bage also said hedge fund activities, which are partly responsible for skyrocketing prices of crude oil and grains on commodity exchanges, were not addressed in Thursday's panel discussion in Yokohama with leaders of the World Bank, the World Food Program, and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Recent price surges are mainly "because demand has outstripped supply," he said, denying speculative money is playing a "major role" in price hikes.

Food demand has surged because the world population has increased and rapid economic development in India, China and other parts of Asia has made them able to afford more food, he said. He also pointed out that grain inventories are falling.

IFAD is a specialized U.N. agency and lending institution for economic development in rural areas in developing countries. Nearly half of all IFAD funding goes to Africa, placing the agency among the top three multilateral institutions on the continent.



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