News - October 18, 2007

African agriculture: ‘Put your own house in order’

Africans, and especially African farmers, should be at the centre of any attempt to develop the continent, said African speakers at the International Conference on Agriculture and Development last Wednesday 10 October in Wageningen. This year’s ICAD drew more students than ever, especially Africans at Wageningen University and Larenstein.

Mercy Karanja gave up a good job at the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture to join the Kenyan National Farmers Union in 1998. ‘Farmers asked me: why did you leave that good job to join the farmers?’ she said in her keynote speech at the 79th International Conference on Agriculture and Development (ICAD). ‘I did so because I hope to make a difference.’ Her words illustrate Karanja’s attempt to raise the image of the African farmer to a higher level, the farmer she believes is perfectly capable of becoming the backbone of African development if allowed to do so.

Now representing the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, Karanja made a passionate plea for more funds, policy involvement and respect for African farmers and farmers’ organisations. Things are starting to move in the right direction, she argued. Not only does the latest World Development Report of the World Bank stress the importance of agriculture, but African governments are also investing more in agriculture and agricultural research. ‘Our own governments are awakening, but you should put your own house in order before you start giving advice,’ she said, referring to the title of the conference Development in Africa: Whose house is it anyway?

Professor Belay Kassa, president of Harmaya University in Ethiopia, agreed with Karanja, saying: ‘Until Africans assume part of the blame for their underdevelopment and try to be open-minded, there will never be real development.’