Bob Dole and Marshall Matz: Private Sector Distribution System is Missing Link in Food Security

By Senator Bob Dole and Marshall Matz, as published in The Des Moines Register

The World Food Prize Foundation, based in Des Moines, Iowa, is again focusing attention on food security by honoring Dr. Akin Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank.

With a PhD in agriculture from Purdue, Dr. Adesina is the first “aggie” to lead the Bank and he immediately identified agriculture as one of the five priorities for the Bank.

“To transform its rural economies, Africa must embark on agricultural industrialization and add value to all its agricultural commodities” Adesina has said. “Agriculture in Africa must move away from being treated as a social sector for managing poverty, to a business for creating wealth.”

While the current famines in Africa are due in part to a number of wars, there is a long-term structural problem, and that is what Dr. Adesina is focusing on. The United States and the G7 need to do all they can to support Dr. Adesina, the African Union and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa in their efforts.

The leaders on the ground in Africa are making progress in developing modern certified seeds, fertilizers, credit systems, markets and a more coordinated public policy. The missing link is an effective, private sector distribution system to reach the smallholder farmers with these seeds and inputs. We have not yet met Dr. Borlaug’s final directive, “take it to the farmers.”

Agriculture yields in Africa are only 10 percent of our yields in the United States. We grow approximately 200 bushels of corn per acre in the Midwest while in Africa they grow only 20 bushels per acre (or one ton per hector.)

The initiative to develop certified seeds for Africa’s climate and soils must take place in Africa. Creating markets for African production and establishing appropriate public policy within Africa’s sovereign governments can only happen within Africa. (There are 54 countries in Africa.)

But the United States could and should help by leading an effort to greatly expand the network of private sector agriculture businesses that serve the farm community. These businesses sell and distribute certified seeds and inputs to the smallholder farmers, who are the backbone of African agriculture. Some even provide extension services.

The best estimate is that there are approximately 25,000 privately owned “agro-dealers” throughout Africa. That number needs to expand dramatically, especially in the countries best suited for agriculture production. African yields can double and triple in one year if certified seeds and fertilizers, coupled with a dose of education, can reach farmers. Down the road, when hoes are replaced by tractors, the yields will continue to improve.

While research, public policy, capacity building, credit, insurance and communication are all important, the key is still reaching farmers (mostly women) in remote villages down dirt roads, who do not have electricity or transportation and farm only a few hectors.

Bob Dole (R-Kan.) is a former United States senator.  Marshall Matz is a Principal at OFW Law, who serves on the board of directors of the World Food Program USA and the Congressional Hunger Center.

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