A review of the importance of the agriculture sector, in terms of its contribution to GDP, export earnings and employment, reveals the unchallenged prominence of the sector in the economies of most African countries. For the continent as a whole, the agriculture sector accounts for approximately 60 per cent of total employment, 20 per cent of total exports and 15 per cent of GDP. Accelerating agricultural growth in African countries is therefore crucial not only for achieving food security and reducing hunger but also for generating employment and trade. NEPAD's Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which has been adopted by African Heads of State and Government, provides a common framework for fostering broad-based agriculture-led economic growth in African countries. The AU Commission's Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture's (DREA) Strategic Plan of Action aims to initiate and promote policies and strategies for developing Africa's agriculture and the livelihoods of its people within this common CAADP framework.
Almost all African countries, with varying degrees of commitment and success, have identified food security as an important policy goal. The African Union (AU) is concerned by the fact that, despite this commitment, too many Africans continue to be food insecure (i.e., without physical and economic access to sufficient and safe food to lead a healthy and productive life).
Given the importance and critical situation of food security to Africa, the Fourth Ordinary Session of the AU Heads of State and Government in Abuja, Nigeria called on the AU Commission to prepare a "Status of Food Security Report" and present it to the Assembly every July. The report is not supposed to be an all-exhaustive report but should present a brief descriptive and analytical general overview of the state of food security in Africa.
The major challenges
Though there have been some pockets of success in African agriculture such as NERICA Rice, high yielding caAfricava varieties, etc., the goal of food security in Africa has remained elusive for many decades. While agriculture is transforming economies across much of Latin America and Asia the transformation has not been the same for Africa. For example, during the period 1993 to 2003, Africa's rate of population growth has been higher than the rate of food production, while the continent's share of world trade declined for nine of ten of its major agricultural exports during the period. African agricultural production has to increase by at least four to six percent per annum on a sustained basis to meet the food needs of a rapidly growing African population that is expected to increase from about 900 million today to 1.3 billion by the Year 2020.
African governments face formidable challenges as they strive to achieve food security and reduce poverty. These challenges include but are not neceAfricarily limited to: high poverty rates and high income inequality; resurgent conflicts and political upheavals; poor infrastructure; the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other debilitating diseases such as malaria; high external debts; soil degradation; increasing water scarcity and poor water use management; desertification; and climate change. However, some of these challenges can be resolved or alleviated by bold policy measures and initiatives.