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Wednesday, 24 March 2010

African corn for Europe?

According to the Deputy Director of the National Agency for the Promotion of Agriculture (SONAPRA), Benin is planning to sell its corn surplus on the world market, in line with the goals formulated in Cotonou that aim to promote initiatives to revitalize the agriculture sector in the last two years. Corn is the staple cereal in this small country that borders Nigeria, and production levels had always been high, until the huge drop in prices discouraged production among farmers. By spring 2008, the government had stepped in to prevent the country from becoming victim to large increases in food prices. In two years, agricultural production has risen dramatically, with a 20% increase this year for rice and 6-7% for corn, resulting in a record surplus of 350 000 tonnes. What lessons can be learned from this spectacular growth?

- Small-scale, family production is able to meet the challenge of food security, the goal of every agricultural policy. Africa therefore offers an alternative to agribusiness and the large-scale cultivation promised by countries or companies interested in leasing land.
- The toughest part is still to come: now that yields are high and the harvests are bountiful, it is ever more important to ensure a market for the surplus so that farmers do not get discouraged. In short, get back to developing agricultural policy, something of a dirty word in Brussels, but which has returned to the agenda in Africa. “African leaders tried not to think in these terms for a long time, but now they’re coming back round to the idea,” notes with satisfaction a rural development specialist working for a European funding agency.

However, in the absence of organized distribution channels, the production surplus may go to waste. A sorry outcome that is all too common in Africa where the problem lies not with production but with the lack of infrastructure (silos, roads, treatment plants, etc.) necessary to link up the producer and the consumer. Additional storage facilities for cereals have been constructed in Benin this year, as well as rice treatment plants to store and mill the grains. All that remains is to match the farmers’ efforts in terms of remuneration. In little over four years, cotton production was halved in Benin as a result of low prices and delayed payments.

Source: Radio France Internationale