Central African farmers gear up to influence future agricultural policy in their region

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      Agriculture plays a key role in the economic and social development of Central African countries. The agricultural sector employs about 50% of the active population and feeds many more. Nevertheless, the food security situation has been worsening over the last two decades. Fast population growth, political and military crises, low agricultural productivity as well as many Central African governments’ focus on extraction of natural resources such as oil, rather than on food production and trade, are reasons behind this trend. To rise up to the food security challenge, the 10 members of the Economic Community of Central African States embarked on a process to develop a common agricultural policy for the region and to put the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) – an “Africa owned and Africa led initiative to boost agricultural productivity” - into practice. In all Central African countries, except Sao Tomé and Principe, national CAADP processes are now ongoing. Progress differs between nations; Burundi is well advanced while countries such as Cameroun and Equatorial Guinea on the other side of the spectrum have only just launched their CAADP processes last month. At the regional level, the Economic Community of Central African States launched its process in May 2012 and aims to adopt the common agricultural policy and the related regional CAADP ‘compact’ – specifying commitments of all key stakeholders to ensure implementation - by the end of this year. The CAADP regional investment plan should follow one year later. Farmers’ organisations from all member states are now shaping up to influence these policy-making processes at national and regional level in the coming months. The main challenge for them is to identify proposals that respond to the needs and priorities of all the farmers they represent, and to ensure that policy makers will take them into account during negotiations. A special workshop for leaders of national farmers’ organisations – held on 25 July in Cameroun by the Regional Platform of Central African Farmers’ Organisations (PROPAC), with contributions from ECDPM and Hub Rural – provided an opportunity for participants to share experiences about the national CAADP processes in their respective countries, and to discuss possible approaches and messages to influence the policy making process at the regional level. The workshop also discussed what Central African famers’ organisations can learn from experiences of their counterparts in West Africa, which managed to play an important role in the formulation of the region’s common agricultural policy through their regional farmers’ network ROPPA. Key to ROPPA’s success was its participation in decision-making organs and meetings, but more so, its preparations for these events. This included consultations of ROPPA’s members at regional, national and local level; analytical work to check and back their arguments; as well as a continuous search for allies among national and regional authorities as well as Non State Actors. Central African farmers’ organisations should now also step up to the plate. They can however not do so alone. National and regional authorities need to commit to ensuring a genuine multi-stakeholder process from policy formulation to implementation and evaluation. International development partners should continue and strengthen their support to farmers’ organisations so they succeed to influence the policy processes. Only joint efforts can assure that small-scale farmers have a say in policy processes, to the benefit of poverty reduction and food security in Central Africa. -- Jeske van Seters is Deputy Programme Manager Food Security at ECDPM. This blog post features the author’s personal view and does not represent the view of ECDPM.
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