Saturday, July 11, 2009

Obama in Ghana

Since I am on my way to Ghana again I've been following the progress of President Obama to that West African country.

At the G-8, agricultural growth in Africa was one of the primary targets of the participants and resulted in a commitment to allocate $20 billion to Africa. Leaving aside whether these funds will ever make it through the bureaucratic systems in individual countries of the G-8, this type of aid needs to be re-directed. The G-8 appear to have recognized that the policies of aid supply to African agriculture have not produced the expected results over the past 20 years, and have actually harmed local farmers. It is about time that agricultural aid is recognizing that the focus should be on helping farmers help themselves rather than attempting to impose non-indigenous concepts. So far, so good.

Yet, as President Obama correctly emphasised that each country must, in effect, help themselves, nothing in agricultural aid will produce the results necessary without a significant reduction in farm subsidies in the US and, more importantly, Europe. Given European agricultural policy, such a reduction is politically impossible.

The other aspect of agricultural reform in Africa is the slow rate of land tenure security. Agricultural reform will not be successful unless farmers have clear tenure over their land. This is a major problem in Ghana, for example, as the growth of cities is exponential - and is not due to population increases but rather an exodus from the rural areas into cities. Local chiefs, the true power in Ghana, are in some areas literally giving away land to get people to stay. But the legal system established to secure tenure is inefficient, expensive and corrupt. Although huge sums have been and will be spent in Ghana by the World Bank and USAID to improve tenure security and improve agricultural policies and practices, they have so far been unsuccessful.

There are many reasons for the slow rate of success in land tenure security, including a highly bureaucratic system and central government/chief rivalry, but until significant movement toward secure tenure is achieved, agricultural growth will remain slow and intermittent.

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