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The Impact Of Agricultural Development On Food Security In Africa

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


* Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Madam Speaker, this morning the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health held a hearing on the impact of agricultural development on food security in Africa. Living in a country of plenty as we do, at least for most of us, where local grocery stores have aisles of fresh produce, cereal and even pet food, one can easily forget that other parts of the world are not similarly blessed, and what undernourishment that results from food insecurity means in practical terms.

* UNICEF estimates that undernutrition is a leading cause of mortality of children under the age of five, contributing to the death of about 5 million children every year. One to two percent of all children under 5 in the developing world, or almost 13 million, suffer from severe acute undernutrition. These children are far more susceptible to dying from childhood illnesses including diarrhea and pneumonia.

* Of course, undernutrition does not affect only children. Twenty-five percent of all undernourished persons in the world, or about 218 million, live in Sub-Saharan Africa. This constitutes about 30 percent of that region's population.

* Agriculture production is essential for addressing this crisis on both the local and national levels. And yet Africa faces numerous challenges in meeting the basic need of food and nutrition for its people. These include the simple lack of food in markets or fields; poor food delivery mechanisms; many people's inability to buy food or agricultural resources due to poverty; obstacles to food access due to social status; lack of sanitation and clean drinking water; and natural and man-made natural resources.

* I can attest to at least one aspect of these challenges from my own experience in Africa. I have traveled along a segment of the Pan-African Highway, which is one of Africa's primary transportation routes. The part that I rode on is a narrow, paved, two-lane road with numerous bicyclists, pedestrians and animals walking along the shoulder. I was told that another major segment was a dirt road that was taking far longer than anticipated to be re-paved. One often encounters open-air trucks overloaded with bananas or other produce broken down in the middle of the road, exposed to the sun and heat. I am told that they can remain there for hours or even days at a time. No one can travel this major road after dark, as the road is not lit and the danger of hitting one of these disabled vehicles or some other object on the road is too great. Even if a community is growing bumper crops of high quality agricultural produce, it would be next to impossible to transport food in a timely manner under these conditions.

* As we are noting time and again during the subcommittee hearings, inadequate infrastructure is a major obstacle to development generally in Africa, and that certainly applies in the case of agricultural development. African leaders recognized this when they named increased agricultural trade capacity and infrastructure as one of the four pillars of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program of the AfricanUnion's New Partnership for Africa's Development. The Subcommittee heard just three weeks ago how the Millennium Challenge Corporation is working to address this need. Congress should be looking for additional measures to create the infrastructure necessary to support agriculture businesses and rural farming populations.

* It is unfortunate that some attribute Africa's food crisis, at least in part, to the Continent's population growth rate, and name people themselves, especially children, as a cause of the problem of food insecurity. At a recent hearing on the shortage of safe water in Africa, the Subcommittee learned that the United Nations Development Programme has found that the global water crisis is attributable to power, poverty and inequal access to safe drinking water, not shortages in quantity resulting from population increases.

* I would propose that the same analysis applies with respect to the availability of food and levels of food security. Many researchers on this issue attribute food insecurity not so much to an absolute deficit of food, particularly at the national and international levels, as to the failure of socioeconomic systems, including markets and political processes, to distribute food equitably or efficiently. Many are of the opinion that better functioning and open market systems are equally or even more important to providing adequate food supplies as absolute increases in food production. While we should and must seek to increase the quality and quantity of food supplies, we must also address longer-term challenges of policy and infrastructure to attain a permanent solution for food security. People themselves should be considered not a source of the problem, but a valuable resource in achieving this goal.

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